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Marie Curie for Kids
Her Life and Scientific Discoveries, with 21 Activities and Experiments
By Amy M. O'Quinn
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2017 Amy M. O'Quinn
All rights reserved.
THEY CALLED HER MAHYA
All my life through, the new sights of Hature made me rejoice like a child.
— Marie Curie
"Beg — pardon! Pardon! I didn't do it on purpose. It's not my fault — it's not Bronya's fault! It's only because it was so easy!" the four-year-old cried.
The little girl had jumped up to read aloud from a schoolbook only when her older sister Bronya faltered while doing a simple reading lesson. Yet the silence, then the shocked expressions on her parents' faces and the sulky glance from Bronya, caused her to panic. What had she done? Were they displeased with her even though she found reading, and all learning, to be almost effortless? And why was her sister upset, when Bronya was the one who had wanted to play teacher with her in the first place?
The year was 1871. The little girl didn't understand that her parents, both experienced teachers, followed the mindset of the times. Although they valued education, they believed that encouraging learning and mental development in very young children was not wise. While they were proud of their daughter's abilities, they didn't want her acting older than her age. When she yearned to play with her father's scientific instruments, kept in a glass case, they told her to play with her blocks or her doll. When she reached for one of the many books in the house, they instructed her to sing a song or go into the garden.
However, the child was curious and interested in everything around her. She was like a sponge, constantly soaking up knowledge and new ideas. She simply could not stop learning. In fact, she would grow up to be recognized as one of the most brilliant and famous women of all time — Marie Curie.
Manya and Her Family
Maria Salomea Sklodowska was born on November 7, 1867, on Freta Street in Warsaw, Poland. Nicknamed Manya by her family, she was the youngest of five children born to Bronislawa and Vladislav Sklodowski. She had three sisters and a brother, and they too had affectionate pet names or "diminutives" commonly used in Poland by family members and close friends. The oldest child, Sophia, was known as Zosia. Bronislawa, named for her mother, was nicknamed Bronya, and Helena was referred to as Hela. Manya's only brother, Joseph, was called Jozio. All the Sklodowski children were quite intelligent. Their home was full of laughter, good books, and poetry. Yet of all her siblings, Manya seemed to possess the most remarkable and unusual attention span and concentration skills.
Manya's mother, Bronislawa, had been born into a family of former minor-nobility land owners. Although Bronislawa's parents, Felix and Maria Boguski, were once considered to be upper class, they had lost most of their land over the years due to invasions by other countries. Left without land or wealth, they managed the properties of others.
Despite having little money, the Boguskis still found a way to send Bronislawa and her sisters to a private girls' school in Warsaw called the Freta Street School, where she received a very good education. In time Bronislawa would become a teacher there and eventually the headmistress. The position provided a home for her family to live in, and she kept the job for several years, even after she was married and had children.
Bronislawa was a skilled pianist with a lovely singing voice. Indeed, she was a very beautiful, accomplished, and graceful woman. She was also a pious and devout Catholic and an attentive mother, and Manya loved her dearly.
Manya's father, Vladislav, was also from a family of Polish minor nobility. One of his ancestors had owned several hundred acres of land and lived a very comfortable life as a well-to-do farmer, as did many of his descendants. Unfortunately, this was not the case for Vladislav's father, Joseph. So, with a desire to improve his circumstances and honor the family name, Vladislav chose to focus on study and academics. He became the director of a boys' school in Lublin and is credited as being the first intellectual in the Sktodowski family.
Like his father, Vladislav attended the University of Petersburg in Russia and excelled in scientific studies. He returned to Warsaw, where he became a professor of mathematics and physics, and married Bronislawa in 1860. Everyone agreed that it was a "very suitable" marriage. And given their intelligence and fierce loyalty to their Polish roots, their children would be not only well educated but also taught to honor their heritage.
Why was it so important to Manya's parents to teach their children the history and culture of their own country? Surely they would be taught these things in school, right?
Actually, Poland had once been one of the most powerful countries in Europe, but in 1772, Russia, Prussia (now Germany), and Austria had seized control of most of the land and divided it among themselves. The name Poland was completely removed from the map.
The French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte tried to help the Poles form a small Polish state in the early 1800s, but he was defeated by the Russians, and the land reverted right back to Russian czar Alexander I, whose troops now occupied the country. The czar decided the time had come to crack down even harder on the Poles, and the "Russification" of Poland began.
New laws required that Poles learn the Russian language and customs. Poles were no longer allowed to celebrate their own religions, culture, and history or teach these to their children. The Russians wanted to completely strip them of their Polish identities and erase any traces of their former lives. Anyone who dared to do things the "old" way or was caught speaking Polish was punished severely. The Poles were also the targets of discrimination, and all the best jobs went to Russians and those who supported the czar.
The loyal Polish people were furious! Two times they rebelled and tried to overthrow their oppressors — in 1830 and again in 1863. But their efforts failed, and anyone who took part in the rebellions suffered the consequences. Families lost land, and some Poles were sent away, put in prison, or worse. Man-ya's paternal grandfather, Joseph Sktodowski, had taken part in the 1830 uprising and was captured. Although he was finally released, he never got his land back, and a hatred for the Russians was passed down in his family through the generations.
Manya's father, Vladislav, had had his own problems with the Russians. In 1868, he made some school officials where he worked very angry — probably because of his Polish loyalty and the regular discrimination against the Poles — and was fired from his job. He was soon able to find another teaching position in a Warsaw boys' school, which provided an apartment for the family. Bronislawa resigned from her job as headmistress of the Freta Street School, and the Sktodowskis moved into their new quarters not long after Manya was born.
Bronislawa was talented and hardworking, and, now as a full-time homemaker, she put all her energy into caring for her family and home. She even learned to make their shoes herself in order to save money! Because of her mother's example, Manya never hesitated to do manual labor or dirty work as she grew up.
Learn About Poland's Geography
WHEN MANYA WAS BORN in 1867, Poland did not exist on the map. It had been conquered and divided up between Russia, Germany, and Austria years earlier. Look at the map below to see the boundary lines of the three empires that controlled Polish land in the late 1800s. The Poland of today is outlined between the three other countries. Notice that Manya's home city of Warsaw was in the area ruled by Russia.
Poland is much different than it was in 1867, and even the countries surrounding it have changed somewhat. Map Manya's beloved native country as it today.
* Current map of Poland
* Pen or marker
Photocopy or trace the map of Poland below or download and print a PDF athttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APoland_map_blank.png.
Use an atlas to identify the location of the bordering countries and the Baltic Sea and label these. Mark and label the following cities: Gdansk, Krakow, Lodz, Poznan, Szczuki, Warsaw, and Wroclaw. Draw and label the Oder and Vistula Rivers. Mark and label the Carpathian Mountains.
On the other hand, Manya did not remember ever being hugged or kissed by her mother, but it was less common at the time for parents to openly display affection. Manya was content to cling to her mother's skirt or feel Bronislawa's gentle caress on her hair or face. However, when Manya was about five years old, Bronislawa became careful about touching her husband and children and started keeping her eating utensils and plates separate from the rest of the family's. Manya was confused; she didn't know that her mother had contracted a deadly and highly contagious disease called tuberculosis. The children remembered their mother's attacks of dry coughing, as well as their daily prayers to "restore our mother's health."
Not wanting to upset her family, Bronislawa carried on with her duties without complaining or calling attention to her sickness. She did, however, make a yearlong trip to a clinic in the South of France for a rest cure, in hopes of getting better. Zosia went with her. Unfortunately, the rest did not help. About the time they returned back home, Vladislav lost his job and they had to move again.
Both Marie Curie's mother and sister died from infectious diseases — Bronislawa from tuberculosis and Zosia from typhus.
Tuberculosis (also called consumption many years ago) is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which primarily attacks the lungs. People with weakened immune systems have a higher risk of contracting the disease, which can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes and the bacteria becomes airborne. If another person breathes in that bacteria, they too can become infected, as was the case for Marie's mother. Symptoms may include a bad cough that lasts several weeks, chest pain, coughing up blood, fatigue, weight loss, fever, chills, and night sweats. The first tuberculosis vaccine was developed in 1921 by two French microbiologists, Albert Calmette and Camille Guérin.
Typhus is caused by a bacteria called Rickettsia prowazekii, which can be carried by contaminated lice, ticks, or fleas. This epidemic form of the disease is spread by bites from these parasitic insects. Symptoms may include high fever, chills, rash, joint and muscle pain, sensitivity to light, delirium, or confusion. Typhus is not to be confused with typhoid fever, a bacterial disease contracted by consuming contaminated food or water. Typhus can also occur in places where sanitary conditions are bad, and cases are rare in the United States. The first effective typhus vaccine was developed by Rudolf Weigl, a Polish research biologist, in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
The family tried to make ends meet by taking in boarders. This seemed a good solution until one of them introduced another dreaded disease into the household — typhus. Both Zosia and Bronya became sick, and Zosia never recovered. Her death was a blow to the whole family. And when Bronislawa, who had never fully recovered from tuberculosis, passed away two years later, 10-year-old Manya was devastated. The heartbreak of losing both her sister and her mother in such a short time affected her deeply.
Despite the sad events at home, Manya excelled at school. Alexander II was now the czar, and the Russian government controlled the schools. Teachers were supposed to give lessons on the Russian language, religion, culture, and history, and any teacher who dared to speak Polish, give instruction in Polish history or literature, or encourage any type of patriotism would be fired and punished. In order to make sure these orders were carried out, inspectors made school visits frequently.
Many Poles pretended allegiance to the foreign government and guarded their words and actions in public while still speaking, honoring, and teaching Polish ways in their own homes. Like Manya's family, they dreamed of a day when they would all be free again. But, for now, they had to be careful, because there were spies everywhere just waiting for the chance to turn someone in.
But there were also some brave teachers who dared to quietly rebel and teach Polish history and literature in their classrooms. They had a warning system in place to alert them if a Russian inspector made a surprise visit. Manya remembered one terrifying inspection in particular.
When she was about 10 years old, she attended a private Polish school. Because she was bright and had advanced so quickly, she was almost two years younger than the other girls in her class. One of Manya's favorite teachers was Miss Tupalska, who was nicknamed "Tupsia." Tupsia looked stern and maintained a strict and orderly classroom, but she was also a quiet Polish rebel who secretly instructed her young students in Polish history, along with their regular Russian-approved lessons in math and history.
One day during a Polish history lesson, the special warning bell alerted them that a Russian inspector was coming. Quickly, some of the girls grabbed the forbidden books and rushed them into another building before hurrying back to the classroom, where the others now sat quietly sewing. Tupsia was reading aloud in Russian from a book of Russian fairy tales.
The inspector, Mr. Hornberg, entered the room and looked around suspiciously. He lifted the top of a nearby desk to peer inside. Nothing. Then he commanded the teacher to ask one of the students to recite for him. Manya knew she would be chosen, because her Russian was flawless and she always knew the drills. Yet how she hated it, even as she stood ready to play her part and protect her teacher and her classmates.
Make Pierogies: A Polish Treat
THERE ARE ALL KINDS of delicious traditional Polish foods, and one of the most famous is the pierogi. This is a large dumpling that can be filled with different ingredients such as cheese, meat, potatoes, or fruit. The traditional pierogi dough is made from flour, water, salt, oil, and sometimes eggs. But you can take a shortcut and make pierogies from wonton wrappers. Fill with blueberries, powdered sugar, and cream cheese for a quick, delicious treat. Adult supervision required
* 2 cups (300 g) blueberries (sweetened with extra sugar if necessary)
* 6 ounces (170 g) cream cheese, softened
* Pinch of salt
* 1 cup (100 g) powdered sugar, plus more for sprinkling
* 1 teaspoon (3 g) cinnamon (optional)
* 12 wonton wrappers
* 1 egg white, lightly beaten
* 1-2 tablespoons (15-30 g) butter
* Whipped cream (optional)
* Large pot
* Mixing bowl
* Hand mixer
* Rubber spatula or
* wooden spoon
* Cutting board
* 3-inch (8-cm) metal biscuit cutter
* Pastry brush
* Large nonstick skillet
* Slotted spoon
* Paper towels
1. With an adult's help, bring a large pot of water to a boil on the stove.
2. Using clean hands, crush the blueberries in a bowl and then drain extremely well in a colander (this step is crucial, or the filling will be too runny). Sweeten with a bit of sugar if needed. Set aside.
3. With a hand mixer, blend room-temperature cream cheese, salt, powdered sugar, and cinnamon (if desired) together until smooth. Gently fold in crushed blueberries with a spatula or spoon. (Be careful not to overmix.) Add a bit more powdered sugar if the mixture is too soupy. Set mixture aside.
4. Lay a wonton wrapper on a cutting board and, using the biscuit cutter, cut a circle from it. Do this for all 12 wrappers.
5. Using a pastry brush, apply a thin layer of egg white to the edges of the wrapper. Place 1-2 teaspoons of the blueberry mixture into the center of each wrapper, then fold the wrapper in half. Press the edges to seal the dumpling. (You can crimp the edges with a fork as well.)
6. With an adult's help and supervision, carefully place the pierogies into the pot of boiling water and let them cook for 2-3 minutes, or until they float. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pierogies from the pot and rinse them with cool water in a colander. Drain the pierogies well.
7. Again with an adult's help, melt the butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Carefully place the pierogies in the hot butter and brown for 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden. Remove each dumpling with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Let them cool completely before serving.
Sprinkle more powdered sugar on top of the pierogies and/or serve them with whipped cream.
When Mr. Hornberg asked her to recite her prayer, she did so in perfect Russian, even though it was humiliating. When he drilled her on the long list of former Russian rulers, their titles, and the names of the current imperial family, she knew them all.
However, when he asked, "Who rules over us?" Manya did not answer immediately. The inspector grew irritated and loudly asked the question again. He obviously did not care that the little girl before him was suffering.
Excerpted from Marie Curie for Kids by Amy M. O'Quinn. Copyright © 2017 Amy M. O'Quinn. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. They Called Her Manya,
2. Yearning for More,
3. Paris and Pierre,
4. New Discoveries!,
5. Fame with a Side of Trouble,
6. Facing Life's Challenges,
7. World War I and the "Little Curies",
8. Marie's Later Years,
9. What She Left Behind,
Resources to Explore,