Brown, Tami Lewis , Dunn, Debbie Loren

Perkin's Perfect Purple: How a Boy Created Color with Chemistry

(2) K-3 Illustrated by Francesca Sanna. "Purple is tricky" to make, at least until William Henry Perkin (1838–1907) discovered the perfect purple pigment in 1856. Until then, purple was reserved only for royalty and the extremely influential because it was so difficult to produce (involving milking snails or soaking cloth in human urine). From an early age, Perkin knew he wanted to be a chemist and, as Brown writes, "discover new formulas to make the world better." While studying at the Royal College of Chemistry in London, he tried to synthesize quinine from coal tar to help the poor dying from malaria. His experiments kept failing, but in a final attempt Perkin accidentally discovered his "bright, bold, rich, and royal purple" after dipping a rag into his solution. Fortunately, Perkin realized the value of his invention, patented it, and started a company to manufacture dye and fabrics. This led to "purple for the people," not just the privileged few. In addition to emphasizing this populist message, Brown and Dunn provide a thorough history of the color purple and reinforce the important, lifesaving ripple effects Perkin's discovery and systematic methods had across the scientific community; they smartly devote several pages to Perkin's meticulous scientific process, which Sanna illustrates with molecules and chains. Her rich illustrations incorporate various shades of purple throughout, and a dynamic mix of spreads, full-page art, and spot illustrations carries readers through the authors' lengthy but child-friendly text. Back matter includes a detailed authors' note about Perkin, color, and the scientific method, along with a reading list, photographs, and a color experiment.


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