Ernest Everett Just, an unsung African-American hero, changed biological science in the early 1900s.
Mangal introduces Just as a scientist who “saw the whole, where others saw only parts. He noticed details others failed to see.” He became “the world authority on how life begins from an egg”—but it was a long and difficult journey. Just was an observant child with a schoolteacher mother, but when he caught typhoid fever, he lost the ability to read and struggled, successfully, to relearn. He studied at boarding school and attended Dartmouth College, where he had difficulty keeping up while working to pay his way and support two siblings. Taking a biology class and discovering the world of the cell changed his life. He taught at Howard University and conducted research at a laboratory in Massachusetts, updating experimental processes and discovering a controversial idea about the egg cell’s role in fertilization. Mangal’s succinct, respectful narrative contextualizes Just in his times, for instance pointing out that he experienced more freedom and respect in the European scientific community than he did in the United States; eventually, he moved to France. A beautiful palette of sea blues and greens, sand and coral colors surround Just in illustrations that highlight the importance of environment and family.
More than a story of triumph against the odds, this book shows the necessity of opportunity for brilliant minds to reach their potential. (author’s note, biographical note, illustrator’s note, timeline, glossary, sources) (Picture book/biography. 6-10)