Impossible Heroes by Jess Keating
It started in Kiev. I watched with my heart in my throat as two undercover American agents interrogated a Russian man who believes he’s murdered a member of the IMF. They do their job, the adventure begins and then that infamous match is struck.
A fuse is lit, racing across the screen, as that ubiquitous and ominous riff starts up in the background. To this day, the Mission Impossible theme remains one of my favorites, simply because to me it represents infinite possibilities. It says to me: we can do anything. Ironic, given the title, right?
Back in those days, many of the women in my favorite action movies weren’t given much to do. They were often relegated to the role of wife, love interest, damsel, or maybe the undercover associate with skills we don’t yet fathom. But it didn’t matter to me as a kid: I wondered, what would it be like to be a hero? To scale the world’s tallest buildings with my bare hands? To save the world from nuclear disaster with your friends, using everything from explosive gum to disguises to stolen jet boats.
To know that anything—no matter how impossible it seemed—was secretly possible. We just needed to use our heads, teamwork, and a little bit of muscle to figure it out.
Cut to years later and I’m studying to be a scientist. A zoologist, specifically, which means I spend a lot of my time with my nose in various textbooks. Everything from biology, chemistry, physics, history of science, statistics, ethics, you name it. And those books are full of the most incredible achievements and accomplishments of mankind.
And I mean that literally: mankind. There’s a lot of dudes in these textbooks, and rightly so; men in history have done some very cool things.
But so have women.
And yet, when I dig a little deeper, it seems that when I do encounter women in scientific history, their stories and challenges began to look remarkably similar. Phrases like “they succeeded largely in spite of the societal pressures around them” pop up a lot. “They weren’t allowed in the conference hall.” “They weren’t allowed on the ship.”
Nevertheless, they persisted, as all heroes do.
Not only was it difficult to be a woman of science back then (and it still is now) – but there happens to be a ridiculously large number of cases where the achievements of women were largely ignored, or worse, actually attributed to men.
That this occurs throughout history is troubling, but even moreso is that fact that it does with enough frequency there’s actually a name for it: the Matilda effect.
Beatrix Potter, Rosalind Franklin, Nettie Stevens, Marie Tharp…I could fill a volume with the women who have been overlooked by history for their scientific achievements. There’s a lot of women out there whose contributions were handed over to men. All because they were born in a time when it really just wasn’t acceptable for them to love science. For them to be heroes in their own right.
Cut to now, with this new series of novels I am so happy to share with you all today. What can you expect? Action, for starters. Genius kids. Heists and chases and impossible odds. Boys and girls working together to, for lack of a better term, kick butt.
But I didn’t write the ELEMENTS OF GENIUS series because I wanted to show girls that they can be heroes of all kinds. I didn’t want to show girls they could be action stars, brilliant scientists, brave and curious souls with big responsibilities and even bigger dreams.
I wrote this series because I wanted all kids—no matter who they are, how they identify, where they come from, or what their strengths are—that they can be all of these things, and more. Kids these days get it. It’s their world, and in ELEMENTS OF GENIUS, I wanted to hand them over that power.
Superheroes don’t have to wear capes, so in this series I wanted to include some of my favorites: Nikola Tesla, who becomes a brilliant, female inventor, Charlotte Darwin, a girl with a knack for biology, Mary Shelley, a writer who just seems to get people, and Grace O’Malley, an absolutely fearless leader who could sell ice to a penguin. They’re joined by their buddies, Adam (Mo) Mozart, Bert Einstein, and of course, a scrappy polymath named Leo da Vinci. It’s a motley crew, but their differences make them stronger.
Together…well, to find out what happens when they join forces, you’ll just have to read the books. And I so hope you do. And most importantly, I hope you share them with your kids: any kids who long to feel like superheroes in their own lives. Who need for a little bit of impossible to be made possible.
At times, it can seem like we have so far to go. We are just beginning to see female superheroes take their stand on the screens, and even then, we often have endless think pieces about “the state of female heroes” in various outlets. In the past three days since seeing Avengers: Endgame, I’ve seen no less than fifteen articles about “how many women is too many?” in a given action movie.
And oddly enough, nobody seems to question whether or not the screens are big enough to accommodate all the men.
But we know better, don’t we? We’re readers. We know that screens and books have room for all of us.
We know that we are more than the sum of our parts, and that our differences are what truly gives us strength. We know that impossible is just a word. I’m already bracing myself for the inevitable here: I know there will be lots of readers saying that Nikki Tesla is a great female hero for girls.
But she isn’t a great female hero.
She’s a great hero. Just like every other kid who dares be the person they want to be. And heroes are for everyone, no matter who they are.
So what’s your mission, should you choose to accept it?
To strike that match. Let’s show kids just how impossible they can be.
Jess Keating is an author, illustrator, and zoologist, whose books blend science, humor, creativity, and adventure, and include the hilarious My Life is a Zoo middle grade trilogy, the award-winning Shark Lady, and the innovative World of Weird Animals series Her new middle grade series, Elements of Genius releases in July 2019, launching with Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray. Her next picture book series, Eat Your Rocks, Croc! debuts in 2020. You can find her on Twitter @Jess_Keating, or on her website www.jesskeating.com, where she shares free videos, art, other resources to spark curiosity and creativity.