Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Mathematics And Imagination

When you first learn about a person, a place, an animal or anything, really, which you find astonishing, you want to learn as much as you can.  Now it's been brought to your attention you are more aware of information in a variety of sources.  It seems as though this person, place, animal or topic is everywhere.  How is it you never noticed it before now?

This is what participation in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge accomplishes each week.  It introduces us to, many times, new subjects in which we are unaware.  It allows us to develop a greater appreciation for our world and its inhabitants, then and now. Augusta Ada Byron who married William King and later became known as the Countess of Lovelace was a woman far in advance of her time, a visionary.  Ada's Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World's First Computer Programmer (Abrams Books for Young Readers, August 2, 2016) written and illustrated by Fiona Robinson is as fascinating as the person whose life and work is portrayed within its pages.

Once there was a girl named Ada who dreamed of making a steam-powered flying horse.

This was, of course, not what her mother desired for her.  A young woman growing up at this time in England would certainly need to be more level headed.  Anne Isabella Milbanke, Ada's mother, was a mathematician. Lord Byron, a renowned British poet, was her father.  When Ada was very young her mother fearing she would follow in her father's footsteps, took Ada and left the marriage.  Ada was never to see her father again.

Ada had a much regimented daily life as a child focusing on studies in music, French literature, mathematics and specific work. Poetry was never allowed.  Can you believe she was locked in a closet if she fell behind in her studies?

It was common for the wealthy to visit the newly formed factories which appeared during the Industrial Revolution.  As a result of these visits Ada's imagination begin to blend with her knowledge of mathematics.  Ada actually studied the wings of a dead crow in an attempt to make her dream of a flying mechanical horse come true.

After a debilitating bout with measles, taking her years to recover, Ada was introduced into society at the age of sixteen.  During one of these social functions she met her longtime mentor Charles Babbage.  His two inventions, The Difference Engine and The Analytical Engine, would be the source of inspiration for Ada's greatest work.  As a wife and mother of three Ada found the time to write an algorithm (what is now believed to be the first computer program) using Bernoulli numbers to be used in The Analytical Engine.  Ada died when she was thirty-six years old.  Don't you wish she could see what her mathematical skills and imagination created?

In the opening paragraph, five sentences, Fiona Robinson shares with readers a dream and a reality.  Through her narrative she takes us on the journey of Ada's life; carefully explaining those events which shaped her personality, that dream and her passion for mathematics.  Robinson includes specific details such as her mother's wealth which allowed them more freedom, covering her father's portrait with a cloth, the schedule of her day as an eight-year-old child, the name of her cat companion, her examination of the crow feathers and the specific people she met as a teen.  Her choice of words to describe those influences in Ada's life parallel how Ada's mind worked.  Here is a passage from the book.

Touring the factories became a popular day out for the wealthy. The machines were thrilling modern wonders. Ada was fascinated by them.  Her mother took her on trips to view these exciting new feats of engineering.  Her imagination whirred along with the powerful engines!  And her mind, so well trained by her many lessons, began to invent!

A first look at the opened dust jacket reveals the unique quality of the illustrations.  To the left, on the back, two punch cards are linked together on the light blue background, creating a space for text about Fiona Robinson's earlier work and the ISBN.  Upon the blue canvas mathematical diagrams have been drawn in white.  It seems fitting that Ada would be featured riding the horse of her dreams on the front.  The three dimensional quality of the images on the jacket and in the body of the book are explained in an Artist's Note.

The illustrations were created with Japanese watercolors on Arches paper.  The paintings were then cut out using more than five hundred X-ACTO blades, assembled, and glued to different depths to achieve a 3-D final artwork.  The images were then photographed.

The book case and opening and closing endpapers are a pattern of overlapping punched cards linked together with string.  Each picture spanning two pages, edge to edge, is a visual interpretation of factual events but also supplies emotional moods.  When depicting Ada visiting the factories five smaller versions of her are found among the moving parts of gears and machines, almost as if she were at a park.  When she is ill with the measles a background of black covers both pages.  On the left is only the text.  On the right is a single bed with Ada tucked under the blankets, Puff sleeping on the spread.  She is holding a quill pen and drawing mathematical shapes which cover the spread.  A limited color palette is used.

One of my favorite illustrations is when Ada was an infant.  The background looks like gray marble. A bright colorful mix of mathematical symbols swirl from left to right, above and around Ada.  Our eyes are drawn to her face, her arm and hand lifted to grasp one of those symbols.

Ada's Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World's First Computer Programmer written and illustrated by Fiona Robinson is an inspiration for the life it presents and for the words and images used to do so.  It's a lovely blend of research and art.  At the close of the book Fiona Robinson includes a note about Bernoulli numbers and a short bibliography.

To learn more about Fiona Robinson and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can view some interior pages.  Be patient...the initial cover image will move to the left like a slide show.  You will want to view the book trailer, watch the Vine and look at the other images contained at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's website, Watch. Connect. Read.  I think you will enjoy her responses to his sentence starters.  Teacher librarian and author Carter Higgins chats with Fiona Robinson about this title on her blog, Design of the Picture Book.  You might like to pair this title with Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, October 13, 2015) written by Laurie Wallmark with illustrations by April Chu.

Remember to stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the selections for the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge by other bloggers this week.


  1. This looks great! We've read Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine and I'm waiting for Ada Lovelace: Poet of Science to come out next week. This looks like another great book about her. Nice that she's finally getting some credit for her ideas!

    1. It is a great book. I learned some new things about Ada. It's interesting to compare the emphasis each author places on certain aspects of a person's life.

  2. I loved looking at Ada's Ideas next to Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. In some ways they seemed very much the same, but it was interesting to figure out the differences.

    1. I'm with you in figuring out the differences Annette. And of course the artwork in each was completely different but equally beautiful.

  3. I've read another picture book about Ada Lovelace, Margie, and loved her story. She was fortunate that her mother was a mathematician, wasn't she? Wonderful review, & now I guess I'll need to find and read this one, too!

    1. She was indeed fortunate that she had the support of her mother. But it's interesting to note her mathematical skills were nurtured by her imagination. Perhaps she had the best of both her parents. It's also interesting where she requested to be buried.

  4. I own Laurie Wallmark's Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, so I'll be interested to see how this one compares/differs. Thanks, Margie :). Love that cover BTW!

  5. I think you might need to have both books Maria. They are very unique in their approach.