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The Vast Wonder of the World: Biologist Ernest Everett Just Hardcover – Picture Book, November 1, 2018

4.9 out of 5 stars 72 ratings

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From the Publisher

Editorial Reviews


"Set amidst the evocative illustrations of Uribe is the life of Ernest Everett Just, a teacher, a scientist, and a poet famous for his foundational contributions to cell biology. Born in 1883 in Charleston, SC, Just was the son of a school teacher who encouraged his curiosity from a young age. Throughout, the discoveries Just makes―as a child and as an adult―spur his creativity rather than sating it. It drives him to Dartmouth (during which time he also financially supported his siblings in the wake of his mother's death); to a faculty position at Howard in the biology department; to the Marine Biological Laboratory every summer for further research; and finally to Europe, where he received more respect as a scientist and thinker than he ever had in the United States because of racism. The text does not shy away from the discrimination Just and his family experienced as black Americans, and the ways it hindered him and his scholarly work throughout his life. Winner of the first NAACP Spingarn Medal, Just's accomplishments are not limited to the title of scientist: he was first a professor at Howard in the English department before becoming head of the Biology department, he wrote poetry, and he cared deeply about the experiences of his students. VERDICT A must-purchase picture book biography of a figure sure to inspire awe and admiration among readers."―starred, School Library Journal

"School librarian and biographer Mangal (Anne Hutchinson: Religious Reformer) highlights Ernest Everett Just, a little-known African-American scientist from the turn of the 20th century who unlocked the mysteries of 'how the different parts of the cell worked together as new life developed.' Childhood hardships of disease and family deaths didn't discourage Just from pursuing his passions; curiosity and a strong work ethic propelled him to success as a professor, embryologist, and cytologist, even in the midst of jim crow segregation laws. Just attended a school his mother created in South Carolina, and he paid his way through Dartmouth College while supporting his siblings after she passed away. In muted blue hues, pencil and digital scenes by Uribe (The Queen and the First Christmas Tree) depict the undeterred scientist, surrounded by tools of his craft, teaching at Howard University and working abroad: 'Ernest worked in Europe as often and as long as he could, enjoying more warmth and respect than he'd ever felt in America.' Quotes from Just, as well as creators' notes, a timeline, and source notes, wrap up this vivid, inspiring tribute to a noteworthy life."―Publishers Weekly

"This picture-book biography opens in 1911 with scientist Ernest Just collecting and studying marine worms, and then backtracks about 20 years to show him as an African American boy growing up near Charleston, South Carolina, and exploring the shore where the river met the ocean. His single mother sent him north to prep school, and after graduating from Dartmouth, he became a biology professor at Howard University and gained an international reputation through his publications on marine invertebrates and egg cells. Weary of the racial discrimination that limited his opportunities in America, he later continued his research in France and Germany. In the book's lengthy, appended notes for older readers, Mangal provides a more detailed, fascinating account of the scientist's life and work. While the main picture-book text is somewhat disjointed, it highlights experiences that children will relate to and acknowledges racial prejudice as a barrier that became intolerable to Just. The digital illustrations create distinctive period settings, while reflecting the story's sometimes lyrical tone. A picture book introducing an American scientist who should be more widely known."―Booklist

"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."―Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

Mélina Mangal is a school library teacher and author of biographies and short stories for young people. She enjoys dancing, being in nature, and traveling with her family. Visit her at

Luisa Uribe loves drawing, reading, and chasing her cat around the house. Her research about Ernest Everett Just took her on a journey from the pages of books all the way to Charleston, South Carolina, where Ernest spent his early life. She lives in Bogotá, Colombia.
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Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Millbrook Press ™; Illustrated edition (November 1, 2018)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 40 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1512483753
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1512483758
  • Reading age ‏ : ‎ 6 - 10 years
  • Lexile measure ‏ : ‎ 890L
  • Grade level ‏ : ‎ 1 - 4
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 9.5 x 0.36 x 11.25 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.9 out of 5 stars 72 ratings

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5.0 out of 5 stars Such an inspiring and powerful picture book!
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on May 26, 2022
I wrote this review originally for my Instagram @Miloureadsbooks

People who see beauty in the little things (in this case. microscopic things) and dream big, truly inspire me. Ernest Everett Just was such a brilliant scientist 👨🏿‍🔬 His life was far from easy, but he never gave up. When the system didn't work for him, he looked for a different way, and in the end, he managed to change the field of biology.
This non-fiction story starts in 1911 on the East coast of the US. A Black man, Ernest, is scooping up some marine worms to investigate them under the microscope. As a scientist he is interested in understanding how life can be created from such tiny eggs. When he was a child, Ernest could always escape in nature. No matter the tough segregation laws, his school being ruined by a hurricane, or having lost his father at a young age, the rivers and ocean were always there for him. He went on the study to provide for his brother and sister and discovered his true passion of biology. Soon he discovered that it is much better to research marine life in a more natural environment and made some groundbreaking discoveries. Still, he did not get equal opportunities in the US and moved to Europe, where he became an independent scientist and wrote a revolutionary book.
I am so glad this beautiful picture book introduced me to Ernest and his talent. Apparently, he was pretty much forgotten for 40 years. This story shows that people are quick to forget that black scientists have been succeeding for decades. Let's make sure the next generations remember!
Also, how gorgeous are these illustrations? Showing the cells and marine works as art, really represents the passion and admiration Everett felt for these tiny creatures. The pictures show nature as this magical place that surely makes more readers want to become scientist. They are so enchanting.
Also, is it weird that now all I want to do is buy a microscope and look at the life in our pond? 🔬🦠
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