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Breaking Through the Clouds

The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson



Abrams Books for Young Readers

(pub 3.8.22) 48 pages

Author: Sandra Nickel

Illustrator: Helena Perez Garcia

Character: Joanne Simpson


"When Joanne Simpson (1923-2010) was a girl, she sailed her boat beneath the puffy white clouds of Cape Cod. As a pilot, she flew her plane so high, its wings almost touched them. And when World War II began and Joanne moved to the University of Chicago, a professor asked her to teach Air Force officers about those very clouds and the weather-changing winds.

As soon as the war ended, Joanne decided to seriously study the clouds she had grown to love so much. Her professors laughed. They told her to go home. They told her she was no longer needed. They told her, 'No woman ever got a doctorate in meteorology. And no woman ever will.'

But Joanne was stubborn. She sold her boat. She flew her last flight. She saved her money so that she could study clouds. She worked so hard and discovered so much that—despite what the professors said—she received a doctorate in meteorology. She was the first woman in the world to do so."

Tantalizing taste:

" By the time Joanne was five, she had discovered her mother didn't much care where she was. That summer on Cape Cod, she slipped a small boat into the inlet behind her cottage, tipped her face to the sky, and watched the clouds above her. There were whiffs and ribbons and mountains of clouds. Some were brilliant; some were frightening. Joanne loved them all.

By the time Joanne was ten, she had learned her mother's words could be icier than the coldest winds.

You are too stubborn. You are too smart.

You have to be lovable to be loved, Joanne."

And something more: Sandra Nickel kindly shared with me her experience of first school visit with her new book: "I just had my first school visit for Breaking Through the Clouds and you could have heard a pin drop. The kids were absolutely enthralled by Joanne's scientific journey and the subject of clouds. I think they were fascinated by Joanne, because I told her story as she did. I went through boxes and boxes of her scientific notes and private papers at Harvard University. I discovered that Joanne's mother was neglectful and emotionally abusive, and I begin Joanne's story that way, showing how clouds became her escape and later her life's passion. As I told the kids about this, I saw them becoming more and more invested in Joanne's journey and also more interested in clouds. It was as if the saving nature of clouds in Joanne's life made clouds more valued and interesting to them. It was beautiful to see."

Thank you to Sandra for sharing your experience with the students. I'm certain those children and all others who read the book will see and appreciate clouds in a new way, and be saddened yet also inspired by the story of Joanne Simpson. And, of course, as another author of picture book biographies, I'm very impressed that Sandra carefully researched this book by going through boxes and boxes of Joanne's scientific notes and private papers at Harvard. Primary sources are the best for telling a person's story!


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