Author and illustrator Rachel Ignotofsky credits cartoons, comics, and TV series such as the adaptations of The Magic School Bus (featuring teacher Ms. Frizzle) and Bill Nye the Science Guy with leading her seven-year-old self to unlock a passion for science. She also had to overcome her difficulty reading, which she found to be a slow and tedious task.

“When I was a kid, I needed illustration to click with stuff,” Ignotofsky says. “A lot of people are visual learners. Illustration inspires people to imagine.” The author is mindful of her early struggle with reading when crafting STEM-focused works for young readers such as the bestselling Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World, an illustrated biography of groundbreaking female scientists, and her recently released I Love Science: A Journal for Self-Discovery and Big Ideas (both Ten Speed).

A former designer and illustrator at Hallmark Greetings, Ignotofsky brings a background in graphic design to her projects—training that has made her style seem instinctual. She uses infographics to make complex material much more accessible. “The information is the star,” Ignotofsky says. “The illustration is really there to serve it.” Her mission with Women in Science is to empower readers with knowledge: “Once you understand how the world works, all of a sudden you can make more informed decisions,” she says.

Ignotofsky, a keynote speaker at this year’s Children’s Institute, will deliver a talk about female innovators throughout history and the power of illustration to get people to learn and approach dense and sometimes scary information. She places her work within the wider movement that is happening now to tell women’s stories, and she recalls the audience’s cheers when she saw the film Hidden Figures, about a team of African-American women mathematicians at NASA.

With Women in Science, Ignotofsky says that she wanted to present role models for girls. “If they see it, they can be it,” she states. The book’s reception among kids and parents inspired her to create a companion journal, I Love Science. It features quotations from prominent scientists and invites readers to record their own observations of the world around them and to set personal goals. “It’s not just stories. It’s a representation of who [the readers] are and what they want to become,” she says.

Ignotofsky plans to continue to expand the series in July, with Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win (Ten Speed). In it, she sets out to debunk the myth of feminine frailty. “The most basic stereotype is that women’s bodies are inherently weaker than men’s,” the author says. “We see [women] as mentally weak as a result.” She wants “to provide an alternative narrative” through stories of women athletes such as gymnast Simone Biles, skateboarder Patti McGee, and baseball player Toni Stone, the first woman to play in a professional men’s league.

Through her work, Ignotofsky says she aims to inspire young people to dream bigger, whether it’s in science, sports, or another field entirely. “Everyone learns differently,” she says. “Figure out how you learn and what you love to do. Use that to follow your dream and passion. And try to make the world a better place.”

Rachel Ignotofsky will give the closing keynote on Friday, April 7, 4:15–5 p.m. in Salon 1 & 4.

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