Lynn: Quick, who was the first person to devise a computer program? If you said Ada Byron Lovelace, you deserve a gold star—but what else do you know about her? I certainly couldn’t have told you very much, which makes me even happier to have read Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (2015). Like so many women scientists and mathematicians, Lovelace has only recently begun to receive wide recognition for her groundbreaking work.
Lovelace was more fortunate than most science- and math-oriented girls of her time. She was the daughter of the famous Romantic poet, Lord Byron, though she was raised by her geometry-loving mother, who encouraged Ada to explore her mathematical interests and worked with her during a devastating bout of measles. After Ada’s recovery, her mother hired a series of tutors including the brilliant Mary Fairfax Somerville, who introduced her to Charles Babbage. He treated Ada as an equal and friend. She began work on a series of instructions for his newest idea, the Analytical Engine, and the science of computer programming was born.
Wallmark’s clear, interesting text focuses on Lovelace’s childhood and teen years, choosing events and explanations young readers can understand. Illustrator April Chu’s beautiful pencil illustrations extend the text wonderfully and provide a sense of the Victorian period. Ada’s cat, which can be spotted on the pages, and adds a whimsical note of humor. Extensive and interesting back matter provides additional information, a timeline, and a bibliography.
This is a most welcome book for young readers and we truly need more that encourage the pursuit of math, science, and invention, especially for girls. One of the saddest elements of humankind is the limitations that have been placed—and in many countries, continue to be placed—on girls. Where would we be as a species if half the population wasn’t limited or excluded from pursuing their talents and interests?
(For even more books about Lovelace, for young and adult readers alike, see Booklist Online editor Keir Graff’s “Ada Lovelace: Not Your Ordinary Science Heroine.”)