Reviewed by Angela Marie
The Extraordinary Life of Stephen Hawking is part of a series designed for the 7 years + reader and features people whose lives have had great impact on us. Some are everyday names whilst others are less well known. To adults the name Stephen Hawking conjures up images of amazing brainpower, resilience and overcoming incredible challenges. To the young adult the recognition might come through the pop culture of The Simpsons or the Epic Rap Battle of Stephen Hawking vs Albert Einstein in South Park. These references require some prior knowledge so it is heartening to read Stephen Hawking’s story in a format aimed at the younger independent reader. Let’s talk to Rocco, an almost eight-year-old avid reader, having recently finished the book.
Angela Marie: Did you enjoy The Extraordinary Life of Stephen Hawking?
Rocco: Yes, I did.
AM: What was the most interesting part for you?
R: I enjoyed the fact about the thing that he used to talk out of when he lost the ability to speak.
AM: Yes. Was there something else that stood out for you?
R: It was amazing that he got that disease when he was 21 and he lived 55 years.
AM: It was. How did you find the reading?
R: I found it quite easy. Some words are written in capital letters and there was like a glossary for it on the same page.
AM: Did you understand what you read?
R: Yes, I just didn’t get the ration with coupons. (An opportunity to talk about the old days.)
AM: Any surprises?
R: It made a surprise that there’s going to be a book called The Extraordinary life of Neil Armstrong. (Wide smile.)
AM: Did this book about Stephen Hawking inspire you?
R: It might inspire me to think about the universe and the things he thought about.
As you read The Extraordinary Life of Stephen Hawking, it taps you on the shoulder in a by-the-way kind of way, delivering many of the intimate pieces of the puzzle of Stephen Hawking. How many would know that Stephen Hawking did not learn to read or write until he was eight or that he had very untidy handwriting? Or that he had to work hard to stay in the top stream of his grammar school? What inspiration could be drawn from understanding that one of the great minds of the modern age was not perfect at everything but was driven by an insatiable curiosity. In his own words, “I was always very interested in how things operate and used to take them apart to see how they worked. But I was not so good at putting them back together again.”
The author, Kate Scott, has not relied on formal chapters but has chunked The Extraordinary Life of Stephen Hawking into short segments such as Stephen’s beginnings, Life growing up, Choosing his subject, Timeline and Travels. This technique enhances the fluidity of the story whilst allowing the young reader to stay focussed. Stephen Hawking becomes a relatable person. Growing up with his parents, having a sense of humour and sustaining lifelong friendships. Having children, working with a disability and remarrying. Passing on. Real world stuff. A picture that shows that although Stephen was a physicist, a cosmologist, a teacher and an author, he shared common ground with others. And offered encouragement. “Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious…”
The Extraordinary Life of Stephen Hawking is a great read for the young (and not-so-young) reader. In it we read about strategies that benefitted Stephen and could benefit the reader, for example visualisation when writing became impossible, and joining a team to make friends when in a new place. We read that Stephen had some conflicting ideas when trying to plot his course of study. And that Stephen’s academic achievements took him around the world and allowed him to experience exciting opportunities and adventures.
The overall presentation is interesting and appealing, and features an explosion of font styles and sizes. Our reviewer, Rocco, alluded to the support given whereby challenging vocabulary is unpacked with explanations. This is strengthened through the clean line drawings of illustrator Esther Mols.
Originally from the Netherlands, Esther Mols is a freelance graphic designer with a self-professed passion for drawing and illustrating. She graduated from the University of Amsterdam with a Master of Science (Communication Science). She has proficiency in Dutch, German and English, speaks conversational Spanish and has an extensive artwork folio.
Author Kate Scott lives in England with her husband and children. As well as TV writing credits for The Hive and Chuggington, amongst others, Kate has written radio plays which have been shortlisted for major awards and have been performed at the Salisbury Fringe Festival. She has written many stories for young readers and is well-known for her Spies in Disguise series.
Together Kate and Esther are constructing what will surely become an invaluable series, and one to watch out for, featuring inspiring men and women, pioneers and front-runners in their own fields.
Written by Kate Scott, Illustrated by Esther Mols