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All in a Drop: How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World

Lori Alexander
illustrated by
Vivien Mildenberger

Hardcover edition
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Awards and Honors
NSTA Best STEM Books - 2020
Robert L. Sibert Award Honoree - 2020
2020 Green Earth Book Award for Children's and Young Adult Nonfiction

Microbes are everywhere: in the soil and oceans, in snow, and inside our bodies. But in Antony van Leeuwenhoek’s time, people believed that what they saw with their own eyes was all that existed in the world. How did a simple tradesman—who didn’t go to college or speak English or Latin like all the other scientists—change everyone’s minds?
Proving that remarkable discoveries can come from the most unexpected people and places, this eye-opening chapter book, illustrated with lively full-color art, celebrates the power of curiosity, ingenuity, and persistence.

Author’s note. Time line of events. Glossary. Source notes. Selected bibliography. Index. Full-color illustrations were created using pastel, colored pencil, and watercolor.





Page Count


Trim Size

9" x 6"




5.8: points 1





Scholastic Reading Counts


JLG Release

Oct 2019

Book Genres



Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723). Microbiologists. Biologists. History of microscopes. History of microbiology. The Netherlands. London, England. The Royal Society. Microbes. Infectious diseases. Scientific discovery.

Standard MARC Records

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Cover Art

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Praise & Reviews

Starred or favorable reviews have been received from these periodicals:

Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist*, School Library Journal, The Horn Book Magazine

School Library Journal

In this current era of the electron microscope, it is difficult to imagine when the microscopic world was not only unknown but unimagined. With no university education or formal training in the sciences, 36-year-old Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723) was exposed to English scientist Robert Hooke’s investigations during a London vacation. Galvanized by this blossoming curiosity, he taught himself to grind superior lenses in order to closely examine the hidden world of various objects. He then diffidently shared his findings with the Royal Society and despite initial skepticism was ultimately elected a Fellow. Alexander’s clear text, accompanied by simple black-and-white illustrations, outlines topics such as bubonic plague, scientific nomenclature, the perils of E. coli and giardia, and the physics of microscope lenses. All is rounded off by an extensive author’s note, a time line from van Leeuwenhoek’s birth to the development of the electron microscope, a glossary, source notes, and a bibliography. This pleasantly readable biography of Antony van Leeuwenhoek illuminates the unexpected journey of a Dutch draper from anonymity to becoming the “Father of Microbiology.” Readable, informative, and a celebration of dedicated curiosity.

Horn Book

In the prosperous city of Delft, in seventeenth-century Netherlands, Antony van Leeuwenhoek was a cloth merchant. But even without formal scientific training, and possessing abundant curiosity and technical skill, Antony became instead interested in lenses and magnification. He went on to create the most advanced microscopes in the world, eventually amassing a collection of over five hundred, each affixed to an individual specimen. He was secretive about his cutting-edge technology, which allowed him to be the first person ever to see many varieties of microbes—which he called diertgens (little animals), translated into English as “animalcules.” Alexander’s excellent, accessible overview of Leeuwenhoek’s life gives upper-elementary chapter-book readers a feel for both the person and the historical context. Well-chosen quotes from Leeuwenhoek’s letters reveal the sometimes tentative but ultimately persistent pioneer and reflect a time when scientific inquiry was open and encouraging to those with the means to pursue their passions. Mildenberger’s cartoony illustrations, both spot art and full-page drawings, include intricately rendered details of the people, places, and microbes of Leeuwenhoek’s world.

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