Sprinkles reviews children’s books on Ada Lovelace

Sprinkles reviews children’s books about Ada Lovelace and suggests a few other books on women in STEM.

Ever since the launch of the Book Bunnies blog, Sprinkles has been thinking about what she should post here as her first review. Finally she decided to share a review she had written about several books on Ada Lovelace for a different outlet. Below is a revised version of what first appeared as “Reading About Ada: Children’s Edition” in the Association for Women in Mathematics Newsletter (Volume 49 Number 1 (January-February 2019), pages 9-13). This is long and will be the only post for July 2019; the book bunnies will be back with new reviews in August 2019.

A black-and-white woodcut-style portrait of Ada Lovelace, based on the nineteenth century A. E. Chaton portrait, created by Colin Adams for the Ada Initiative.
A black-and-white woodcut-style portrait of Ada Lovelace, based on the nineteenth century A. E. Chaton portrait, created by Colin Adams for the Ada Initiative , Creative Commons licensed Public Domain image available at
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ada_Lovelace.svg

We’re living at a time of many opportunities for people who can code. Today children of privilege begin playing with computers as toddlers. Attempts at leveling the playing field can involve coding camps as well as more traditional STEM-focused enrichment activities. Yet the computer science and engineering workforce remains heavily male-dominated. So proponents of women in STEM grasp at any loose end they can find to help alleviate the dearth of female role models. This is why we’re seeing book after book written about Ada, the first woman who wrote a computer program. And she is not only the first woman who did that, but actually the first person ever. A neat win for the Girls Team!

I completely empathize with this desire to share Ada’s story with younger people. And more generally I’m always on the lookout for books that can open up worlds of opportunity for girls of all ages. Hence I appreciated the opportunity to review several recent books on Ada written for the under-ten age group. The first three books I read belong to special series of books intended to encourage children to learn more about scientists and innovators and their contributions:

Ada Lovelace by Virginia Loh-Hagan (my itty-bitty bio) (illustrated by Jeff Bane)

Ada Lovelace and Computer Algorithms by Ellen Labrecque (Women Innovators: 21st Century Junior Library)

Programming Pioneer Ada Lovelace by Valerie Bodden (STEM trailblazer BIOS)

Sprinkles writes about Ada Lovelace by Virginia Loh-Hagan, Ada Lovelace and Computer Algorithms by Ellen Labrecque, and Programming Pioneer Ada Lovelace by Valerie Bodden.
Sprinkles writes about Ada Lovelace by Virginia Loh-Hagan, Ada Lovelace and Computer Algorithms by Ellen Labrecque, and Programming Pioneer Ada Lovelace by Valerie Bodden.

Loh-Hagan’s book is for the youngest in the crowd. The book is narrated through Ada’s perspective and the plain Ada illustration on the cover appears throughout; there is also a range of images from Ada’s life. Though reading a sentence such as “I died in 1852” feels weird, the open-ended questions throughout try to connect the child reading the book (or being read to) to Ada’s story. Though the story is much simplified, perhaps to the extent of not being com- pletely accurate (Ada Lovelace didn’t “invent” the first computer program, she “wrote” it, and Charles Babbage didn’t “invent the computer” as his work didn’t connect with the actual historical development of computers), it is told in an age- appropriate way to inspire and intrigue.

Labrecque’s book presents itself in a similar vein. Printed in a very large font, it could be read out loud with a new reader, and the occasional prompts to the reader sprinkled throughout can make this reading session more fun and engaging. This book goes into more detail about Ada and her contributions, and the reader is offered a clearer idea of what her life’s work was about. Several color photos and images accompany the text and enrich the reading experience. A few follow-up resources and activities are suggested, and I could see an enthusiastic parent or summer camp instructor turning the book into a cool afternoon full of learning and fun.

At 28+ pages Bodden’s is a book one could (or should!) find in any school library. This hardcover chapter book would be a neat resource for elementary school students trying to learn about Ada and her contributions; it could also be a great story to share with that special shy niece interested in mathy stuff. Many images throughout bring Ada’s story to life. The section titled “Thinking Like a Man” openly brings up gender issues and could make a good conversation starter for pre-teens. This, I believe, is the most detailed and accurate account of Ada’s story for the under-ten crowd.

Next are larger-format storybook-style books on Ada. Each of these would be great to read to or together with a young child; their beautiful illustrations will add much joy to the experience.

Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer written and illustrated by Fiona Robinson

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark (illustrated by April Chu)

Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers? The Story of Ada Lovelace by Tanya Lee Stone (illustrated by Marjorie Priceman)

Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley (illustrated by Jessie Hartland)

Sprinkles writes about Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark, Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers? The Story of Ada Lovelace by Tanya Lee Stone, and Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley.
Sprinkles writes about Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark, Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers? The Story of Ada Lovelace by Tanya Lee Stone, and Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley.

None of these goes beyond Bodden’s Programming Pioneer Ada Lovelace in terms of technical details, but the technical details that are included are dispensed in perfectly digestible amounts. This makes the books not only fun to read but also intellectually stimulating. Interestingly, they all seem to be fascinated by nine-year-old Ada’s efforts to design and construct a flying machine; this plays an important role in each of the four books. The sheer beauty of illustration in each book also makes these great gifts for young children and the adults who enjoy reading with them. The expert illustrations range from the realistic (in Wallmark and Chu’s Thinking Machine) to the whimsical (Stone and Priceman’s Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers?). Most play with the contrast of the poet’s imagination with the mathematician’s strict discipline, and all successfully combine the two in the end.

But what to do with that special little person who read several of these books and wants to know more about Ada? Here let me tell you one thing: Whatever you do, don’t jump into any random book about Ada with your youngster, without first reading it yourself (or skimming over my review of it in the next issue). Otherwise you just might find yourself, like I did, in some very awkward territory, where you need to either explain, or explain away, or simply skip through large portions of exposition, which go beyond PG-13. Yes, Ada’s life is inspiring to children, but it also contains a lot of messy bits for the adults.

Indeed, it saddens me to acknowledge that children only get to hear part of Ada’s story. Ada’s life is complex, and as you immediately discover when you dig into the juicy details, she certainly didn’t do everything right. She was ambitious and confident. She had vision and she had sass. She was also the person who wrote the very first computer program. But Ada is an ideal role model for more than just the above. Yes, she was brilliant. But she was also a failed genius, and this time, she is on our team. Except for her gender, Ada’s story resembles the stories of any of those wild geniuses appreciated not only for their achievements but also for their larger-than-life personalities. And how many such stories do we have with female protagonists? How many others like her can you count? A female genius, who was brimming with potential and yet was mostly misunderstood and unappreciated during her time? An extraordinary figure, one who saw farther than her peers, one who basically squandered her voluminous talents because she was just interested in way too many disparate things?

The standard simplified Ada story tells us that she was a genius who wrote the first computer program. A similarly simplified story could tell us alternatively that she ended up doing nothing impactful, that her work and that of Charles was not what led to today’s computers, so that overall, she was a failure. Another simplified story could badmouth her mothering, her wifely skills, and her “loose attitude” with other men and tell us a tale of immorality in the grandeur of Victorian England. (Valerie Aurora in her amazing talk explores these different stories about Ada and encourages us to accept the complexities of her life instead of trying to fit her into a straitjacket.)

The story most people would choose to tell their children is the first one. However, for those children ready to take on a more complex persona and engage with her fully, some grownup books might help. The one I’d recommend for people who might also enjoy reading along to learn some of the math Ada was engaged in is Ada Lovelace: The Making of a Computer Scientist by Christopher Hollings, Ursula Martin, and Adrian Rice. The authors are historians of mathematics and computer science and have dug deep into the archives and brought us a mathematically rich and yet a most readable account of Ada.

But maybe you don’t want to go there. Then, why not expand your little ones’ horizons and introduce them to other amazing women? Here are three of my other favorites if you want a break from Ada:

Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe (illustrated by Barbara McClintock) – about Sophie Germain

The Girl with a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague by Julia Finley Mosca (illustrated by Daniel Rieley) – about Raye Montague

Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker (illustrated by Dow Phumiruk) – about Katherine Johnson

Sprinkles also recommends Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe, The Girl with a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague by Julia Finley Mosca, and Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker.
Sprinkles also recommends Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe, The Girl with a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague by Julia Finley Mosca, and Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker.

And for neat collections of short bios, you will not go wrong with either of the two volumes of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo; if you’re especially rooting for math, don’t miss the second volume, with its portrayal of Maryam Mirzakhani.

Marshmallow reviews Animal Friendship! Collection by National Geographic Kids

Marshmallow reviews Animal Friendship! Collection by National Geographic Kids, a collection of three books in one volume:

Book 1: Best Friends Forever! And More True Stories of Animal Friendships (by Amy Shields)

Book 2: The Whale Who Won Hearts! And More True Stories of Adventures with Animals (by Brian Skerry with Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld)

Book 3: Lucky Leopards! And More True Stories of Amazing Animal Rescues (by Aline Alexander Newman)

Marshmallow has been reading the Animal Friendship! Collection by National Geographic Kids on and off for a couple years now. Finally she is writing about it.

Marshmallow reviews Animal Friendship! Collection, Amazing Stories of Animal Friends and the Humans Who Love Them by National Geographic Kids.
Marshmallow reviews Animal Friendship! Collection: Amazing Stories of Animal Friends and the Humans Who Love Them by National Geographic Kids.

Marshmallow’s quick take: If you like nonfiction books about animals, then this might be the book for you. 

Marshmallow’s Overview: This book has three books in one volume:

Book 1: Best Friends Forever! And More True Stories of Animal Friendships (by Amy Shields)
Book 2: The Whale Who Won Hearts! And More True Stories of Adventures with Animals (by Brian Skerry with Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld)
Book 3: Lucky Leopards! And More True Stories of Amazing Animal Rescues (by Aline Alexander Newman)

In the first two books, there are four stories each, each made up of three chapters. The third book has three stories, each made up of three chapters. That means that there are, in total, eleven stories (all told in a total of 33 chapters) in the collection.

Each story is three chapters long. The stories are all about different animals: there are stories about leopards, apes, dogs, whales, cats, sharks, and so on. In the stories of the first book, there is a friendship between two species of animals that are each unique in different ways. Most stories in the second book are about human interactions with special animals, and the stories in the third book are about people rescuing hurt animals. The stories are all real, and the book contains many colorful photos of the events happening.

Marshmallow is pointing towards an adorable baby harp seal, the protagonist of only one of the many sweet stories in Animal Friendship! Collection, Amazing Stories of Animal Friends and the Humans Who Love Them by National Geographic Kids.
Marshmallow is pointing towards an adorable baby harp seal, the protagonist of only one of the many sweet stories in Animal Friendship! Collection: Amazing Stories of Animal Friends and the Humans Who Love Them by National Geographic Kids.

Marshmallow’s Review: The book cover says that this book is about “Amazing Stories of Animal Friends and the Humans Who Love Them”. This description is accurate as these are really heartwarming and amazing stories.  

This is a great read for people and rabbits who like nonfiction books about animals and people. It contains stories that have characters that are all loyal and kind to their friends or companions. 

My favorite book in the collection is Book 1: Best Friends Forever! I like this book because it has my favorite stories. The stories in this book are about animal friendships. The animals are very loyal to their companions who are from a different species, which makes it even more impressive that they are friends. The very first story is about Roscoe the dog and Suryia the orangutan. The second one is about a gorilla named Koko who loves cats. The third story is about a greyhound named Jasmine and the many different animals she becomes friends with. The last story of Book 1 is about Owen the hippo and his friend Mzee the tortoise.

The fact that this book is nonfiction is almost unbelievable since the stories are so unlikely but very cute and adorable. In my opinion this is a very good and well written book.

Marshmallow’s rating: 100%

Marshmallow rates Animal Friendship! Collection, Amazing Stories of Animal Friends and the Humans Who Love Them by National Geographic Kids 100%.
Marshmallow rates Animal Friendship! Collection: Amazing Stories of Animal Friends and the Humans Who Love Them by National Geographic Kids 100%.

Caramel reviews Train Your Angry Dragon by Steve Herman

Caramel reviewed Train Your Dragon to Accept NO by Steve Herman a couple weeks ago. He really liked the little dragon Diggory Doo in the book so he wanted to read and review a second book from this series (My Dragon Books). Sprinkles is taking notes and asking some followup questions as usual.

Caramel reviews Train Your Angry Dragon by Steve Herman.
Caramel reviews Train Your Angry Dragon by Steve Herman.

Sprinkles: So Caramel, what do you want to tell us about this book?

Caramel: You always say that!

S: Ok, I won’t. I take it back. so you can start!

C: Ok. So I want to tell you about the book. You know how it’s about a dragon which has a temper. He keeps having temper tantrums.

S: The dragon is Diggory Doo from the other book, Train Your Dragon to Accept NO, that you reviewed earlier, right?

C: Yes. Drew is teaching us how to train a dragon. Here is how he starts:

First, you start with common tricks
like roll over, sit and stay …
Then you must potty train your dragon
and teach him how to play. 

Caramel shows the page where Drew is telling us how to train one's dragon.
Caramel shows the page where Drew is telling us how to train one’s dragon.

S: Then what else do we learn?

C: We learn that dragons make a good pet, but they have a bad temper. And their temper tantrums can ruin your day!

S: Hmm, so then how are we supposed to train our dragon to manage their temper? Reading through the pages we see Drew teaching Diggory Doo to calm himself down in different circumstances.

C: Yes. So for example when Diggory Doo doesn’t want to share Drew tells him to think about the other kids and how they feel:

“Instead of getting mad,
here’s what you should do…
Just treat the other children
how you want them to treat you.”

S: Yes, then there is the time when Diggory Doo gets upset because it’s raining and he can’t get out.

C: Oh yes, that’s when Drew says:

So I told him that when angry
thoughts begin to fill his head,
He can make them go away by thinking
happy thoughts instead.

S: Yes, that does seem like a good idea, doesn’t it Caramel?

C: Yes, I think so too.

S: Do you think you could use some of these tricks when you are feeling upset or angry?

C: Yes, maybe I can.

S: Which ones in particular sound most realistic to you? Let us pick one that you will try to use next time.

C: Happy thoughts. I like that one. I will try to think happy thoughts the next time I feel angry.

S: That sounds like a good plan Caramel! Apparently there are several other books with Diggory Doo and his human friend Drew, right? Looking at the last few pages of the book, you can see at least twenty more books from this My Dragon Books series!

C: Yes, I want to read all of them!

S: Wait! Why? What do you like most about this book?

C: The characters. When Diggory Doo cries or gets mad, he’s pretty funny.

S: How about the ideas? The idea to handle powerful and unpleasant feelings might be helpful too, don’t you think?

C: Yes! Happy thoughts! I love that! Ommmmmmm!

Caramel pledges to try to think happy thoughts the next time he feels upset or angry, trying out one of the tricks in the book Train Your Angry Dragon by Steve Harmon.
Caramel pledges to try to think happy thoughts the next time he feels upset or angry, trying out one of the tricks in the book Train Your Angry Dragon by Steve Harmon.

Marshmallow reviews The Mysterious Mannequin by Carolyn Keene (Book #47 of Nancy Drew Detective Stories)

Marshmallow has read about fifty of the classic Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene. Below she shares her thoughts about The Mysterious Mannequin, the forty-seventh volume in the series, first published in 1970.

Marshmallow reviews The Mysterious Mannequin by Carolyn Keene (Book #47 of Nancy Drew Detective Stories).
Marshmallow reviews The Mysterious Mannequin by Carolyn Keene (Book #47 of Nancy Drew Detective Stories).

Marshmallow’s quick take: If you like detective stories where the main character is a kid who solves crime mysteries, then this might be the book series for you. 

Marshmallow’s Summary (with spoilers): Nancy Drew receives a mysterious package that contains a Turkish prayer rug that hides a message. Nancy’s friends, George, and Bess, help her figure out the message:

“Carson, find mannequin. I love her. Carry her to Constantinople.”

Nancy and her father Carson Drew decide that the sender is probably Farouk Tahmasp, a client of Mr. Drew who, after being charged for smuggling, disappeared mysteriously. But other people know about the rug that Farouk Tahmasp sent to the Drews: a man comes and attempts to steal the Turkish prayer rug. Luckily, Nancy’s dog Togo saves the day (and the rug). Nancy sees a man who looks exactly like the man who tried to rob the Drew house. He meets with a woman and shows her a note that is short but sad. She bursts into tears, and then when the man sees Nancy, he tells her to run. They flee and Nancy and her friends, George and Bess, run after them.   

Nancy is an amateur detective and immediately starts to search for the mannequin that the sender, Farouk Tahmasp, is looking for. Nancy finds a clue while dining at a Greek/Turkish restaurant. Nancy describes the thief and the woman who he talked to. She asks if he knows anyone by the descriptions that she tells him. Another man, probably the “neighborhood boss”, gets up and asks them (not very nicely) why they are asking all these questions. Nancy asks him who he is and then he goes back and sits down again. The owner of the restaurant, Mr. Akurzal, leaves. Later one of the waiters drops a note in Nancy’s lap. It says:

“There are many young people who answer your description but you might look for two men, Cemal Aga and Tunay Arik, and girls, Alime Gursel and Aisha Hatun.”

Find the people that the owner, Mr. Akuzal, told them about in the note. They cross out two of the suspects, Cemal Aga and Alime Gursel. That means that the main suspects are Tunay Arik and Aisha Hatun. They can’t find them though. Nancy and her friend, Ned, look but they can’t find the man Tunay Arik. Nancy and Ned start looking for Tunay Arik in shops. They don’t find him, but they do meet the two girls who lead them to Tunay Arik. Sue and Kathy, the two girls, take them to Tunay Arik’s location. He is not there though. They find out who is the woman, Aisha Hatun. They learn that Aisha and Farouk were in love and then Farouk got involved in the smuggling issue. (Farouk was proven innocent.) Farouk left and then Tunay started annoying her. Nancy and her friends, George, Bess, Aisha, Ned, Burt, and Evan, all leave to Turkey. The problem is that they don’t know where the mannequin is. Where is the mannequin?

Marshmallow is reading The Mysterious Mannequin by Carolyn Keene (Book #47 of Nancy Drew Detective Stories).
Marshmallow is reading The Mysterious Mannequin by Carolyn Keene (Book #47 of Nancy Drew Detective Stories).

Marshmallow’s Review:  This is one of my favorite Nancy Drew mysteries and I have read it over and over again, several times. The characters are interesting and the way that Nancy reveals the mannequin is intriguing.

It is also at the same time an old book and its age shows. I felt that occasionally it is not very culturally sensitive. But the book does try to give a flavor of Istanbul to the readers, and does mention some facts about Turkish history.

Nancy Drew is a little like Encyclopedia Brown (you can see my review of Encyclopedia Brown Books 1-4 here). Nancy Drew is not an encyclopedia of facts A to Z but is very intelligent. She has a very practical mind and has the ability to make connections that most of the time solve the mystery that she is working on. Her friends are not as intelligent but are helpful and supporting of her.

Marshmallow’s rating:95%

Marshmallow rates The Mysterious Mannequin by Carolyn Keene (Book #47 of Nancy Drew Detective Stories) 95%.
Marshmallow rates The Mysterious Mannequin by Carolyn Keene (Book #47 of Nancy Drew Detective Stories) 95%.