Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Mathematical Mind

One of several benefits of having an affinity for mathematics, at least when I was in school, was to be placed in classes with like-minded people.  One class during one particular year remains firmly entrenched in my memory.  There was a huge push to teach the New Math at that time.  Our minds were blown with working in a base other than ten.  To encourage us to complete our tasks and understand what we were doing, we were promised something we grew to love.

Being a huge fan of science fiction our math teacher would read aloud stories and books as our reward.  He had a gift for selecting captivating titles and stopping for the day at a distinctively edge-of-your-seat spot.  Whenever the period was over many of us remarked how we wished every teacher would do this.  He not only provided support in a subject we enjoyed but he enriched our world further with reading.

When you are given opportunities and encouraged to pursue something you enjoy, it can make a difference not only for you but for others.  Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, October 13, 2015) written by Laurie Wallmark with illustrations by April Chu is a book showcasing the life of a remarkable woman far ahead of her time.  Her passion for numbers and inventions, supported by those closest to her, will long be remembered.

Ada was born into a world of poetry but numbers, not words, captured her imagination. 

Lady Byron, her mother, favored the field of geometry.  Her father, Lord Byron, was renowned for his poetry written during the Romantic Movement.  When still a baby, Ada and her mother left Lord Byron to live with her maternal grandparents.

Ada never saw her father again, knowing him only through his writing.  Frequently left alone by a mother who traveled, Ada found solace in writing and drawing about her two passions.  An invention catching her attention more than others was a flying machine. She even constructed a set of real wings.

One day as a storm whipped up the wind, Ada got an idea.  Taking all her papers filled with calculations, notes and drawings she left the comfort of her room to test a theory.  At a nearby pond amid the blowing rain, she made a model sailboat which she launched repeatedly, making changes after observations.  Whether it was a result of being outside in the bad weather for so long or not, disaster struck Ada.

A bout of measles left her temporarily blind and paralyzed.  Day in and day out her mother stayed by her side reading to her and quizzing her on math problems.  Her skills in numbers and analytical thinking grew but it was years before she walked without assistance.

A special tutor secured by her mother allowed Ada to connect with Charles Babbage, twenty-four years her senior, who saw the brilliance in Ada.  She became knowledgeable about his Difference Engine and Analytical Engine.  Her work on the second machine, before it was ever constructed, developing mathematical instructions, algorithms, along with her glorious imagination insured her a place in history.

Using defining events in Ada's life author Laurie Wallmark fashions a narrative from her birth until her greatest achievement, at a very young age, in creating the

world's first computer program.

Relying on her research Wallmark takes us to these specific moments with vivid descriptions of time and place.  It's as if we are living them as Ada.  Here is a sample passage.

First, Ada needed to compute the wings' power.  She broke the problem into steps---surface area and weight, wind speed and angles.  Multiplying and dividing, over and over again.
Ada loved numbers, but these calculations seemed endless.  Wasn't there an easier way?  Writing for so long made her finger hurt.  She wriggled them and returned to her numbers.

April Chu depicts the essence of Ada Byron Lovelace first use of the Difference Engine, a mechanical calculator, on the front of the book case.  Her use of color, rich muted hues, conveys a sense of history.  Certain elements in this image appear to glow.  This luminosity and palette are employed throughout the book.  The opening and closing endpapers are a part of the book.  The verso and title pages first and a timeline, partial bibliography and information about the author and illustrator on the last.

Rendered using pencil on paper and then colored on an Analytical Engine the images all span two pages.  Each one is like a portrait of a portion of this woman's distinguished life.  The details in the clothing, the interior design and exterior architecture are striking.  The depictions of London in the distance and the countryside where Ada and her mother resided are gorgeous.  Chu shifts her perspectives with intention; above, wide-angle and close-up so we are a part of each picture.

One of my favorite illustrations is when Ada goes out in the storm to the pond.  We are looking at her kneeling with her journal open before her on the bank.  Her one hand is extended toward a sailboat on the water.  It's raining and the wind is blowing.  Her cat is hiding in her satchel, worried face peeking out.  A frog and turtle are calming watching.

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine written by Laurie Wallmark with illustrations by April Chu is a stunning portrayal in words and images of a woman who spent her lifetime devoted to her passion for numbers and inventions.  She dreamt of a future better for her efforts.  And it is. I highly recommend this title.  In addition to the timeline and limited bibliography mentioned above, an author's note, several paragraphs titled The World's First Computer Program, and Ada's Nicknames are included.

To obtain more information about Laurie Wallmark and April Chu along with their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  The publisher has created a seventeen page teacher's guide.  On March 27, 2015 April Chu was interviewed at Author Turf.  To enjoy both Laurie Wallmark and April Chu speaking about the pronunciation of their names at TeachingBooks.net follow the links embedded in their names in this sentence.  Here is a link to one of the posts in the blog tour for this book located at My Brain on Books.  There is a list of the other stops on the tour.  Enjoy the trailer!

Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see the other titles selected this week by those participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  I completely enjoy my participation in this challenge.  Each week leaves me better informed than before.

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