A Great Picture Book to Add to a STEM Library! “Tiny Stitches: The Life Of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas” by Gwendolyn Hooks; illus. by Colin Bootman
Today is the last day of February, and also designated as Black History Month. And here is a picture book in the area of biography and STEM education; that as an acronym is related to the areas of Science, Technology, Electronics and Mathematics, and should be added to your child’s STEM library.
By the way, STEM has also additionally taken on the additional acronym term of “STEAM”, with the “A” designated to the importance of the “Arts,” in a child’s education, with which I heartily concur.
In “Tiny Stitches”, can you imagine someone wanting to be a doctor in 1929 and having to forego that pursuit because of the Great Depression’s stock market crash, and his loss of savings?
Tack on to that, Vivien Thomas’ being a black American facing the prejudices of an all-white school that would never admit him to its medical school. But, persistence and tenacity in the face of adversity and unfairness, is a great life lesson to learn.
Vivien Thomas learned that lesson hoping that employment there might further his dream. And it did, though not as he expected. Here’s are two bits from reviews of this extraordinary book:
Thomas accepted a job at Vanderbilt University as a research technician
under Dr. Alfred Blalock. Expressive watercolor illustration depict
Thomas’s dedication. He is shown practicing techniques, working in the
lab, and researching in the library. The narrative covers many examples
of the racism that Thomas faced, including less pay, housing discrimin-
ation, and the press’s failure to acknowledge his discovery of
what was later named the Blalock-Taussig shunt.
School Library Journal
Vivien Thomas combined imagination, skilled dexterity and hard-won
medical knowledge to develop tools and techniques for successful open
heart surgery on babies. …. It is the work Thomas achieved, however,
in spite of these enormous challenges, that will pique reader interest.
As Dr. Blalock accepts a position in 1941 at Johns Hopkins, he is much impressed with Thomas’s surgical skill and he insists that Vivien Thomas come along to the new position, and it is there that Vivien researches and designs an operation to correct the fatal heart defect known as “blue babies,” that would eventually save thousands of infant lives.
He could sadly only act as “coach” at these operations, since only “white staff” could perform the surgery.
In 1976, Vivien Thomas was given an honorary doctorate by Johns Hopkins in recognition of his contributions, and in 2005, John Hopkins names each of the four colleges into which freshman medical students will enter; Vivien Thomas’s name is on one of those school.
“Tiny Stitches; The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas” is a fitting book to close out February and Black History Month. Before this book, I had never heard of his life-giving accomplishments and the gritty determined spirit that it took to achieve them.
Perseverance in the face of both adversity and prejudice is something that Vivien Thomas both faced and faced up to….and we are in his debt.
Sometimes life is unfair; and yet how do we teach children not to give up, but overcome and succeed in spite of the roadblocks, by taking an alternate route to success?
Let your young reader learn from his journey.
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