Mosca’s The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes

The Story of Dr. PB Cover_1600px_300DPI_5MB (1).jpgIf I only had two adjectives to describe The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes, written by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley, I would, without hesitation, choose witty and bold. The book’s cover features disembodied eyeballs floating on a purplish background as well as a woman with brown skin and long dark hair holding an ophthalmoscope. It’s a wonderful introduction to a picture book that is a little silly, a little serious, and brilliantly engaging. The book is one of a small handful in Innovation Press’s Amazing Scientists Series, which provides socially relevant biographies of scientists who have overcome structural inequality to become experts in their fields. All the books in the series are written by Mosca and illustrated by Rieley providing a sense of aesthetic and lyrical coherence to the collection.

The first two-page spread features a minty-green background accented by a few trees and a winding gray path. We’re introduced to Patricia E. Bath in her lab coat as she waves to her readers, inviting them into her story. The illustration is paired with text that reads: “If you like to think BIG,/ but some say you’re too small,/ or they say you’re too young/ or too slow or too tall…/ Pay no mind to their doubts,/ and just follow the path/ of one AWESOME inventor,/ PATRICIA E. BATH.”

The story then veers into typical biography terrain, skimming through Bath’s early life, including her close relationship with her brother, and supportive family and community. As a child, Bath’s mother gives her a chemistry set, supporting her interests, and a doctor, who is also an African American family friend, gives her the confidence to envision herself helping sick people. Without appearing at all didactic, the importance of familial and community support complicate the idea that Bath was able to overcome sexism and racism on her own; she is exceptional, certainly, but she is a member of networks of support, the product of a strong family and community.

The text engages institutional sexism and racism, as well as the consequences of poverty, with frankness while maintaining an optimistic tone. On a page with a cotton candy-pink background, a young Bath is depicted standing next to her father as he rests his hand on her shoulder. She images herself a grown woman in a lab coat. The text reads: “But doctors back then?/ Most were men, you will find./ Still, Patricia stood firm./ That did not change her mind.” Her father has assured her that people, “all genders, all shades,” are equal.

It is explained that all the high schools near Bath are only accessible to wealthy white students, so she must take a train to school, which she completes in three years. The image that accompanies the description is of Bath sitting on a train looking out the window as peach-skinned students saunter to school on foot. Structural inequalities are also discussed when Bath is in medical school and finds that women are not allowed to sit in the first row. Bath is described as undeterred by structural barriers and it is while at medical school that she decides she will work to help people see.

During an internship, and as a result of her attention to poor minority communities, Bath discovered that black patients were twice as likely to be blind than white. She understood the lack of preventive care leading to blindness as a public health issue and solving the problem became her life’s mission.

The story clearly explores the indignities of racism and sexism. On one page, various shades of grey, and an unwelcoming disembodied white hand, introduce Bath to her new office, which is lit only by a dim unadorned bulb. The text reads: “But it wasn’t all cheery,/ Some things she would FIGHT,/ like the desk in a DUNGEON/ that barely had light.”

Through all of the microaggressions and structural barriers, poverty, racism, and sexism, Bath succeeded in not only joining her professional field but revolutionizing it. Bath never ceased to study, lead, and innovate, designing a laser probe that healed eyes, bringing sight back to individuals who were blind for decades.

Along with technological and medical breakthroughs, it was Bath’s cultural work, identifying medical issues as emanating from poverty, and linking race and class, that make her so very exceptional, noteworthy, and worthy of modeling.

The final illustration is of Bath holding an eyeball the size of her head as the text reads: “So, if helping the world/ seems too hard, you are wrong./ If some say you can’t do it,/don’t listen. Be STRONG./ Like Patricia, stay FOCUSED./ Push FORWARD. Shine BRIGHT…/ And you’ll find all your DREAMS/ will be well within SIGHT!” A wonderful ending to a wonderful story.

Mosca’s notes from her interviews with Bath are collected at the back of the book, and Innovation Press provides additional activities that pair with texts from the Amazing Scientists Series online, making The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath an excellent addition to home and school libraries. This is an important story very well-told by Mosca and charmingly illustrated by Rieley.






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