Sprinkles reviews children’s books about babies and where they come from

Today Sprinkles reviews a collection of children’s books that parents can share with little ones to help answer the curious question “Where do babies come from?”

Sprinkles has reviewed several books for the book bunnies blog before. Last October, she reviewed a handful of children’s books on gender identity. Today she once again discusses a selection of books on a topic that is both important and useful but may sometimes be challenging to talk about with little bunnies: Where do babies come from?

Sprinkles reviews children's books about babies and where they come from.
Sprinkles reviews children’s books about babies and where they come from.

As a parent of young and growing children, I have occasionally needed to field curious questions such as “why is the sky blue?” or “why are there only seven colors in the rainbow?” or “why does ice cream taste so much better than cabbage?”. Sometimes these questions lead me to interesting discoveries, as the world is enormous and little ones have no limits to their curiosities but I certainly have a finite amount of knowledge. So often we look things up together online, or check out books, and learn something new together. And these turn out to be quite pleasant learning experiences for all. In fact many grownups I know love to rediscover the world through the questions of the children in their lives.

However there is one question that often challenges grownups: “Where do babies come from?” Some eventually figure out how to give an at least somewhat satisfying answer to this question, or children seem to lose interest eventually, seeing how their grownups are fumbling with words, and move on. But readers of the book bunny blog might want to know if there are smoother ways to talk about this question and the related ones about human sexuality. That is why I decided to read and write about a handful of books that explore these issues and claim to be age-appropriate.

Sprinkles reviews Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and With Illustrations, written by Peter Mayle, illustrated by Arthur Robins, and designed by Paul Walter.
Sprinkles reviews Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and With Illustrations, written by Peter Mayle, illustrated by Arthur Robins, and designed by Paul Walter.

I begin with the first book on this topic that I myself have read (because, yes, I was a curious young bunny once, too): Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and With Illustrations. Written by Peter Mayle, illustrated by Arthur Robins, designed by Paul Walter, and published first in 1973, this book might perhaps be the first in this genre. Quite progressive for its time, I think the book holds up relatively well.

Sprinkles is reading Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and With Illustrations, written by Peter Mayle, illustrated by Arthur Robins, and designed by Paul Walter.
Sprinkles is reading Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and With Illustrations, written by Peter Mayle, illustrated by Arthur Robins, and designed by Paul Walter.

Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and With Illustrations begins with the natural question almost all curious young bunnies ask their parents at some point. The answer is almost all accurate and illustrated with hilarious and quite anatomically detailed drawings. The explanation starts with a woman and a man wanting to be close to one another and then goes into some of the details of sexual intercourse (called “making love” here). These stages are illustrated with a cute and round mom-to-be and a cute and round dad-to-be. You do not see things in very graphic format, but you do get a full understanding of the mechanics of the process. Then there is a detailed and illustrated description of the uterus and the various stages of pregnancy, and the book ends with a message of love to the child addressed as “you” throughout the whole thing:

You might think it sounds like a lot of hard work for such a little person. But there’s a very good reason why your mother and father went through it all. And if you want to know what that reason is, just take a look in the mirror.

This is where I find that the book is somewhat not completely ready for our times. It assumes that the child asking the titular question is living with a mom and a dad, and that these folks are the child’s biological parents. There is no acknowledgment of other alternatives, such as adopted children or children being raised by people other than their biological parents. Other than this particular shortcoming, the one minor mistake I can find in the book is about baby math. That is, we are told that “one sperm plus one egg makes one baby; two sperm plus two eggs makes two babies, and so on.” This is of course not always true; twins and triplets can come from a single fertilized egg.

But perhaps adults might not want to complicate things, and perhaps theirs is a nuclear family structure made up of a mom and a dad who are the biological parents of the curious child. In that case, I think that Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and With Illustrations is still quite capable of doing its job effectively, and all along the way, entertaining everyone involved. Depending on the parents’ level of comfort, the book might be appropriate for bunnies as young as 6 years of age. Readers should know that there are a lot of naked baby illustrations along the way and a few adult naked bodies, too; the inside covers are also full of over a hundred smiling sperm. Visually, the tendency is all on the cute and humorous, and there is absolutely nothing erotic or sexualized, but most characters depicted have no clothes on.

Sprinkles reviews Where Do Babies Come From: A Guide for the Christian Family, two separate books written for boys and girls aged 6-8.
Sprinkles reviews Where Do Babies Come From: A Guide for the Christian Family, two separate books written for boys and girls aged 6-8.

A book, or rather a pair of books, on the same topic where everybody except the unborn is fully clothed is Where Do Babies Come From: A Guide for the Christian Family. This is in fact two separate books, one written for boys aged 6-8 and the other written for girls in the same age range. Folks do not need to be Christian to have some concerns about having images without clothing in a book they are sharing with their young ones. So I thought it might be a good idea to see what this book pair had to offer.

This pair of books does not have a visible author; published by a Christian publisher the author voice is captured by an invisible “we” addressing the parent at the beginning and giving them some ideas about how to share this book with their little ones. Most of the rest of the book is written in the form of a story about a boy named Simon or a girl named Alisa, turning seven and wanting to learn about where babies come from. The Christian nature of the book is very tangible, with Christ being mentioned in the address to the parents; however, the rest of the book mainly focuses on a single God, who creates and loves, so it is possible other religious folks might be able to find it palatable for their context as well.

Sprinkles is reading Where Do Babies Come From: A Guide for the Christian Family, two separate books written for boys and girls aged 6-8.
Sprinkles is reading Where Do Babies Come From: A Guide for the Christian Family, two separate books written for boys and girls aged 6-8.

The books develop content in parallel for most of the time, and they make an effort to mention alternatives to the child living with biological mom and dad setup. There is mention of an adopted neighbor and possibly grandparents living with the child. But the focus seems to be the nuclear, mom and dad setup. The actual making of the baby event is described by mom and dad loving one another and “bringing their bodies together very close and in a special way.” There is not any more anatomical or mechanical details, though words like egg, sperm, uterus, and vagina do come up.

Then comes the part where children are told boys and girls are different and a boy cannot be the mother when playing house (though, thankfully, we are told men can be cooks and women can be firefighters or doctors). Then there is the part about how “sin has ruined God’s perfect plan” so some moms and dads don’t stay together. Furthermore the binary and biological essence of sex is emphasized throughout (boys are like this, girls are like that). These might make it harder for some grownups to choose these books for their little ones.

All in all, I found this pair of books to be an interesting attempt, and I thought that they provided lots of messages which might align with the values of some families. However, I believe they do not provide a concrete answer to the actual question. It was also not clear to me why the authors felt a need to make the two books separate; the only difference I could discern was the main character of the story was a boy for the book meant for boys and a girl for the book meant for girls.

Sprinkles reviews Where Do Babies Come From?, written by Katie Daynes, illustrated by Christine Pym, and designed by Suzie Harrison.
Sprinkles reviews Where Do Babies Come From?, written by Katie Daynes, illustrated by Christine Pym, and designed by Suzie Harrison.

Another book with a similar title is Where Do Babies Come From?, written by Katie Daynes, illustrated by Christine Pym, and designed by Suzie Harrison. Designed as a lift-the-flap book, this book also does not give away too much about the mechanics of how babies are made. We are told only that the father’s sperm and mother’s egg met and became one. It is not clear how or where the meeting happened, but somehow this egg and sperm pair made it into the mother’s body.

The main distinction of this book, in my opinion, other than the flaps that would most effectively engage young bunnies who would likely love to discover what is hidden under each, is that it puts the human process in the context of the larger animal kingdom. The pages of the book are colorful and full of all sorts of animals courting one another, mating, and taking care of their eggs and their young. Each of the animal groupings point to a flap which, when opened, explains a particular animal behavior which leads to the making of offspring (like a bird dancing to attract a mate). And in the middle of each two-page spread is a human mother or a pregnant woman, and a curious child asking her questions.

Sprinkles is reading Where Do Babies Come From?, written by Katie Daynes, illustrated by Christine Pym, and designed by Suzie Harrison.
Sprinkles is reading Where Do Babies Come From?, written by Katie Daynes, illustrated by Christine Pym, and designed by Suzie Harrison.

Where Do Babies Come From? in this way puts human reproduction in the context of natural animal behavior. This might appeal to grownups who know that their little ones like and enjoy books and documentaries about animals. The flappy design of the book makes it accessible to a younger readership; bunnies as young as four years of age might be able to enjoy and learn from the book. And perhaps the lack of information about some of the details of the baby-making process is perfectly fine for this particular audience.

Sprinkles reviews Where Do Babies Come From? Our First Talk About Birth, written by Dr. Jillian Roberts and illustrated by Cindy Revell.
Sprinkles reviews Where Do Babies Come From? Our First Talk About Birth, written by Dr. Jillian Roberts and illustrated by Cindy Revell.

Where Do Babies Come From? Our First Talk About Birth is yet another book with a similar title, aiming for the younger crowd. Written by the child psychologist Jillian Roberts and illustrated by Cindy Revell, this book is part of a new series called “Just Enough: Difficult Topics Made Easy.” As expected, the book does not give too many details, just enough to satisfy a curious five-year-old bunny perhaps. Where do babies come from? The mother’s body has a place named a womb, right under the stomach; that’s where. To make the baby an egg and a sperm need to meet. And how do they meet? “When it’s time to make a baby,” a mommy’s body which has an egg and a daddy’s body which has a sperm fit to one another and get the two pieces of the puzzle together. So again, there is a lot of handwaving and indirection, but the goal is to just say enough so the child is satisfied and not misled, but also does not get confused by the details.

Sprinkles is reading Where Do Babies Come From? Our First Talk About Birth, written by Dr. Jillian Roberts and illustrated by Cindy Revell.
Sprinkles is reading Where Do Babies Come From? Our First Talk About Birth, written by Dr. Jillian Roberts and illustrated by Cindy Revell.

Just like most of the books reviewed earlier in this post, Where Do Babies Come From? Our First Talk About Birth aligns itself more with the attitude that younger bunnies do not need too many details, but they can get to know about the sperm and the egg, and this allows them to think about how two humans came together to make one baby (no matter how vaguely that coming together is described).

Sprinkles reviews It's NOT The Stork: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Families, and Friends, written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley.
Sprinkles reviews It’s NOT The Stork: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Families, and Friends, written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley.

For grownups who want their younger ones to have more of the details and who are not worried they will be confused, scared, or inordinately curious (some grownups do prefer less curious bunnies!), I can recommend It’s NOT The Stork: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Families, and Friends. Written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley, this book is perhaps the best option for the 4-7 age group. The presenters are a bird and a bee, one curious and wanting to know more and the other a little embarrassed and kind of tentative about things. They start with the stork and other stories children may have heard about where babies come from, and then go into the facts. The illustrations are cute, fully colored, and very helpful.

Unlike any of the earlier books reviewed above, It’s NOT The Stork: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Families, and Friends actually uses the phrase “having sex” and describes in detail the reproductive systems of the biologically male and biologically female human bodies. It also accounts for a range of families including adoptive ones. The binary nature of biological sex is still omnipresent in the book however. The differences and similarities between the body of a boy and a girl are explored in great detail.

Sprinkles is reading It's NOT The Stork: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Families, and Friends, written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley.
Sprinkles is reading It’s NOT The Stork: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Families, and Friends, written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley.

One thing I really like about this book was the section on “Okay Touches, Not Okay Touches”. One of the reasons why young bunnies should learn something about their bodies and where babies come from is so that they are aware of the notion of the privacy of certain parts of their bodies. This book takes this concern to the next level and explicitly differentiates between good and natural and healthy ways people can touch them and the not-so-good, and unwanted ways. Reading this book together (maybe a couple sections at a time, as each two-page spread makes a rich section on its own), a grownup bunny and a young one can have some very important conversations.

Sprinkles reviews It’s SO Amazing: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families, written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley.

It’s SO Amazing: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families, written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley, the same team who produced It’s NOT The Stork, is also a neat book, in the same spirit, providing a lot of useful information in digestible chunks, this time for the 7-and-above age group. In fact It’s SO Amazing! was written first, in 1999, and then came It’s NOT The Stork for the younger crowd, in 2006. Both books are great options, in my opinion, if you want to answer your young bunnies’ questions fully.

If your young one has already read It’s NOT The Stork, they may already recognize the bird and the bee in It’s SO Amazing, who are once again the main narrators of the story. This book also talks about how babies are made, but also, as its intended readership is approaching puberty, there is some mention of the typical changes that a child’s body goes through during this time. The “Okay Touches, Not-Okay Touches” distinction shows up once again.

Sprinkles is reading It's SO Amazing: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families, written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley.
Sprinkles is reading It’s SO Amazing: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families, written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley.

I was surprised to see that there is a whole section on HIV and AIDS in It’s SO Amazing: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families. First I wondered why the section was not more broadly on sexually transmitted diseases. My explanation for myself is that the point was probably not to explain HIV / AIDS as one of many sexually transmitted diseases, but rather to make sure that young readers know and understand the context of HIV / AIDS. Sexually transmitted diseases are not typically discussed in mainstream conversations involving young people, and many may not have heard of them. And perhaps it is okay for a seven-year-old to not learn more details just yet. However, HIV / AIDS is a topic that many will hear about before they turn ten, and some will know people who are living with HIV / AIDS. There are a lot of myths about how the HIV virus is transmitted and the two pages dedicated to it aim to dispel some of these.

The team who created It’s NOT The Stork and It’s SO Amazing! also wrote a book for older children, age 10 and up. I plan on reviewing that book together with a few other books about puberty. Stay tuned for that, coming up in a few more weeks.

Sprinkles reviews What Makes A Baby? written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth.
Sprinkles reviews What Makes A Baby? written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth.

Finally, I wanted to share with you some thoughts about a slightly more recent book, What Makes A Baby, written in 2012 by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth. Formatted as a picture book, this book, too, seems directed towards the younger crowd. As the most recent book among those I am writing about here, this book is perhaps the most flexible in terms of audience and inclusivity. The subtitle of the book says it explicitly; this is “a book for every kind of family and every kind of kid.”

The book mentions people who have sperms and people who have eggs and people who have uteruses. The words boy, girl, woman, man, mother, father do not appear anywhere. But there is repeated mention of those who wanted you, those who cared for you, those who loved you. There is also a lyrical description of the conception process, involving the stories of the egg joining the stories of the sperm, and being ready to tell a new story together. In other words, a baby is made by love, bringing together stories of multiple people and generations, and is to be loved by the people around them. Anatomy is mentioned to an extent; we hear of the baby coming out of the vagina, we learn how to say the word uterus, but the mechanics of the baby-making process is not included.

Sprinkles is reading What Makes A Baby? written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth.
Sprinkles is reading What Makes A Baby? written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth.

I think What Makes A Baby is a neat book which offers grownups the opportunity to share a more inclusive and metaphorical explanation of how babies are made with the young bunnies they love. This will be especially helpful for young ones who themselves do not feel like their identities are captured by words like boy or girl, and those whose families may not fit the traditional biological parents living with their offspring template. However, many young bunnies are ready to love and be loved, and so sharing this version of the story of the beginning of their life when they are not yet ready for the full technical story might be a good idea.

More generally, I think that What Makes A Baby is a good first read for all young bunnies and their grownups. For the ones interested in nature and animals, the flapbook Where Do Babies Come From? might also be very appropriate. For young ones who have a pregnant person close to them and are curious about the process, Where Do Babies Come From? Our First Talk About Birth might also offer a feasible option. If and when the young ones ask for more information, you can move on to some of the more detailed texts, such as Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and With Illustrations, or either of the birds-and-bees books (It’s NOT The Stork and It’s SO Amazing!) All in all, I think there are a lot of interesting options out there!

Sprinkles enjoyed reading and writing about children's books about babies and where they come from. She hopes that readers will comment on their favorites on the topic to continue this conversation.
Sprinkles enjoyed reading and writing about children’s books about babies and where they come from. She hopes that readers will comment on their favorites on the topic and continue this conversation.

Caramel reviews Pangolins by Lisa Fanton

Last week, when Caramel was reviewing the four books that make up the Endangered and Misunderstood series, he remembered one of his new favorite nonfiction books: Pangolins, a 2019 book written by Lisa Fanton full of amazing full-page photos and many inspirational quotes, as well as a lot of interesting facts about these intriguing little creatures. That is why he chose to discuss this book today in his blog post. As usual, Sprinkles is taking notes and asking questions.

Caramel reviews Pangolins by Lisa Fanton.
Caramel reviews Pangolins by Lisa Fanton.

Sprinkles: So Caramel, after last week, having talked about that pangopup in Adventures of a Pangopup, I had a feeling you were not done with pangolins. So here we are, talking about a book all about them. Can you first say a few words to introduce the book to our readers?

Caramel: Adventures of a Pangopup was fiction; this book, Pangolins, is nonfiction, all the way. And it has some startling news.

S: What’s this startling news?

C: There are eight species of pangolins around the world, and the news is that all eight are on the red list, which means that they are really in danger of going extinct.

S: Oh no! That’s terrible!

C: Yes! Of the eight species, four live in Africa and four in Asia, and all eight are hunted, almost to extinction. It is terrible.

S: What do people do with pangolins?

C: They kill them and take their scales. They grind them and use them in some traditional medicine and in soups. And some people eat the meat. They are tiny though!

S: Rabbits are small, too, and people eat them, too.

C: Yes, true, I don’t like to think of bunnies like me being eaten, either, but at least bunnies are not going extinct. And these are poor adorable creatures! Did you know their scales are made of keratin, same stuff making your nails and hair?

S: That is cool. And I saw in the book that they are the only mammals whose bodies are covered with scales instead of fur. That is so interesting!

C: Yes! And people hunt them for their scales! And I can’t believe it. If they want keratin, why don’t people use their nails instead? About this, there is a really nice sentence in the book I want to share:

Nobody in the world needs a pangolin scale … except a pangolin.

S: I agree with that sentiment completely Caramel. It seems this book has made you even more passionate about pangolins.

C: Yes! They are so cute! And people should leave them alone!

Caramel is reading Pangolins by Lisa Fanton.
Caramel is reading Pangolins by Lisa Fanton.

C: Did you know that pangolins yawn? There is a really cute picture of a pangolin yawning in the book.

S: Yes, the photos in this book are all pretty amazing.

C: They are in full color, taken by professional photographers, and you can see the scales of the pangolins and their faces, too. And some of them are rolled up into a ball. The book says that some people call them walking pinecones and artichokes with legs, and I like those descriptions too.

S: They are quite accurate descriptions, I’d say.

C: But the pangolins are a lot cuter than pinecones or artichoke. And I like pinecones — I even reviewed a book about a pinecone — but I think the pangolins are a lot cuter still. And artichokes are tasty, so I don’t want people to think of pangolins as tasty edible things.

S: I understand that, Caramel.

C: Did you know that if they are caught, they thrash around and might cut the bag they are put in and so on? And when they are scared, they roll up into a ball, which is also very cute. And they fart to defend themselves.

S: They are really weird and really cute animals. And I think this book does a great job of showing how beautiful they can be in their natural habitats.

C: I agree. Here are my three words for this book: Informative, striking, because the photos are striking, and amazing. Because what else could a good book about pangolins be? Pangolins are amazing, and so is this book!

S: I agree, Caramel. I am not as passionate about pangolins as you are, but this book made me like them a lot more. They are really interesting creatures, and beautiful, too, in their own way. I also liked several of the quotes sprinkled throughout the book.

C: Yes, there are lots of nice quotes along with all the facts about pangolins. And that is why I called it informative.

S: Agreed. So do you think other young bunnies should read this book?

C: Yes. Young and old, all bunnies should. Because the pictures are amazing, and the facts are even better. And there are not too many words, so young bunnies can read them too.

S: Again, I agree. So it is about time to wrap up this review then. What do you want to tell our readers?

C: Stay tuned for more book bunny reviews!

Caramel loved reading and rereading Pangolins by Lisa Fanton, and recommends it to all other bunnies who love living beings.
Caramel loved reading and rereading Pangolins by Lisa Fanton, and recommends it to all other bunnies who love living beings.

Sprinkles reviews mathematical biographies for children (the Mathematical Lives series) by Robert Black

Sprinkles reviews the Mathematical Lives series by Robert Black. From left to right: Pascal and Fermat: The Probability Pen Pals (2019), Florence Nightingale: The Lady with the Diagrams (2019), David Blackwell and the Deadliest Duel (2019), Ada Lovelace: Programming the Future (2020), Benoit Mandelbrot: Reshaping the World (2021), and Edward Lorenz and the Chaotic Butterflies (2022).

Last summer Sprinkles got a hold of a few mathematical biographies, written by Robert Black and published by a small publisher focusing on the homeschooling and educational enrichment market named Royal Fireworks Press. She was planning to at least skim through the books herself before sharing them with the younger bunnies of the household, but once she began reading, she could not put them down. She ended up reading all the books pretty fast, and earlier this year, when she learned that the series had a sixth book, she decided to read that too. In this review, she writes about the whole series, sharing her thoughts on what young bunnies might get out of them (quick hint: a lot!). She also explains why curious adult bunnies might want to read these books, too, whether they like math or not. The quick summary is that the books show us very clearly that people who come up with some of the most fanciful and powerful mathematical theories are all human, with human challenges, human dilemmas, human desires and concerns. And their mathematics is much more interesting in the context of their lives.

Read on for the long version.

Sprinkles reviews the Mathematical Lives series by Robert Black. From left to right: Pascal and Fermat: The Probability Pen Pals (2019), Florence Nightingale: The Lady with the Diagrams (2019), David Blackwell and the Deadliest Duel (2019), Ada Lovelace: Programming the Future (2020), Benoit Mandelbrot: Reshaping the World (2021),  and Edward Lorenz and the Chaotic Butterflies (2022).
Sprinkles reviews the Mathematical Lives series by Robert Black. From left to right: Pascal and Fermat: The Probability Pen Pals (2019), Florence Nightingale: The Lady with the Diagrams (2019), David Blackwell and the Deadliest Duel (2019), Ada Lovelace: Programming the Future (2020), Benoit Mandelbrot: Reshaping the World (2021), and Edward Lorenz and the Chaotic Butterflies (2022).

Mathematics is a common topic of discussion in the book bunnies household, and the book bunnies have reviewed many mathematical books written for children for the book bunnies blog. I have personally reviewed Women Who Count: Honoring African American Women Mathematicians by Shelly M. Jones as well as several books written about Ada Lovelace. More generally, you can check out all posts we published that are tagged “math“. So when I got a hold of a neat collection of mathematical biographies, written by Robert Black, that are aimed for a young but curious audience, I thought I could write a review of them all for the blog, too. After all, the young bunnies have been complaining nonstop about how I have not reviewed anything for a long time now.

So in this review, I’m talking about Robert Black’s Mathematical Lives series, currently composed of six books: Pascal and Fermat: The Probability Pen Pals (2019), Florence Nightingale: The Lady with the Diagrams (2019), David Blackwell and the Deadliest Duel (2019), Ada Lovelace: Programming the Future (2020), Benoit Mandelbrot: Reshaping the World (2021), and Edward Lorenz and the Chaotic Butterflies (2022). Most of these names are not household names. One might wonder why the author chose these particular people to write about. (I will get to that at the end of this review.) Even though I had heard of all six of them, and reviewed several books written about one of them, in most of the cases, I did not know the specifics of the lives and achievements of these people. And reading these books, I learned a lot. A lot of mathematics as well as a lot of interesting facts about the lives of six fascinating people.

Let me begin with the first book I read from the series: Pascal and Fermat: The Probability Pen Pals (2019). This is the story of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) and Pierre de Fermat (1607-1665), and how through letters, they developed the foundational concepts of modern probability theory.

The book, like all the others in the series, is divided into ten short chapters. We start with Blaise Pascal, more specifically his family. The author portrays the general setting in which Blaise finds himself, both historically and culturally. Along the way, we learn of the specifics of a question a friend asks Blaise about gambling that gets the ball rolling and leads eventually to the correspondence between Blaise and Pierre de Fermat that in turn leads the two, Blaise and Pierre, to the modern constructs of probability.

The math is sprinkled here and there, always written in an accessible manner, in digestible chunks. The author is writing for a young but curious audience and it seems to me that he knows well how to keep them interested, how to zero in on the crux of the issue at hand, and how to impart significant amount of math accurately all the while keeping things still manageable.

The ten chapters of the book also include a solid narrative on Fermat’s own life story, and the stories of several other mathematicians whose ideas and earlier attempts formed the background to the mathematics the main characters of the book ended up extending, enhancing, and building upon. The author is especially skilled at making connections and finding contexts for the math he is talking about that would be comprehensible to a young bunny, or a curious adult bunny.

Next let me tell you a bit about Florence Nightingale: The Lady with the Diagrams (2019). This is the story of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the lady with the lamp, as she was called by many who wanted to remember her role in modernizing the world of nursing (and along with it, updating the whole medical establishment of her times) during and after her service as part of the British corps of nurses in the Crimean War of 1853-1856. In this book we learn about her other (but related) heritage: the statistical work she did to bring attention to the many challenges of hospital care during the war.

After a short prologue that quickly brings the reader up to speed about the general outlines of Nightingale’s life and how her work related to the modernization of nursing (“The Lady with the Lamp”), the book starts with a chapter titled “Misfit in an English Lady’s World”. We learn about Florence as a young girl, her family background, and the general societal expectations from a young woman of her upbringing. We follow Florence as she grows up, learn more about her interests and concerns, and eventually, arrive at the path that takes her to the military hospital in Scutari (today’s Üsküdar, which English-speaking folks might know from this rendition of a classic Turkish song by Eartha Kitt).

Soon math, or more specifically statistics, comes up as Florence looks for a way to help the data tell the right story about the problems she has observed during the war time: how poor sanitary conditions were leading to significant loss of life and how certain standards of care could improve the situation. Florence develops novel and creative visualization methods that finally allow her to tell the whole story clearly to the public as well as the folks in power who can, and eventually do, make the necessary changes.

The math content of this book, just like in all the other books in the series, is distributed among many chapters, showing up in digestible chunks. Some of this content is directly related to what Florence herself did, and some of it is provided as background for the reader to understand how her work fits in with the main history of the development of the field. All in all, the reader gains a solid understanding of the life and times of Florence Nightingale, as well as her significant mathematical contributions, all within about a hundred pages. The book, just like all the other books in the series, concludes with an appendix titled “Doing the Math”, where the author offers some concrete problems for the interested readers to play with and take their understanding further.

The third book from Black’s Mathematical Lives series that I read was David Blackwell and the Deadliest Duel (2019). David Blackwell (1919-2010) was a mathematician who made significant contributions to game theory, probability theory, information theory, and statistics. He was a brilliant theory builder as well as a problem solver, a great communicator as well as an educator.

David Blackwell and the Deadliest Duel (2019) is organized in a way similar to all the other books in the series. The life story of David Blackwell is intertwined organically with some of the most curious problems that Blackwell worked on and the theories he made significant advances in. We learn about the mathematical study of games, and duels in particular, which Blackwell thought deeply and productively about. We also learn about Bayesian probability theory, which approaches the problems of probability in the background context of what we know and what we believe. These topics could get very hairy and pretty incomprehensible very quickly, but the author skillfully manages to give us exactly what we need to get a a general sense of the theories, only focusing on a handful of concrete situations that clearly display the mathematics without making things too complicated.

David Blackwell had an illustrious career, spanning several decades, and today he is remembered as a brilliant mathematician. There is a well-known theorem and an annual award named after him. However, his story also reflects many instances of how things were a lot more difficult for a black person in the United States, no matter how brilliant. Robert Black, the author, does not shy away from this dimension of Blackwell’s life story, and I believe that young bunnies will be able to appreciate Blackwell’s achievements even more, given this background.

All books in the series include a “For Further Reading” section at the end, right after the “Doing the Math” appendix. In David Blackwell and the Deadliest Duel (2019), this section includes a link to a video recording of a special lecture Blackwell gave many years ago titled “Predicting at Random”. The link provided did not work for me, but luckily, I was able to find it at https://www.maa.org/david-blackwell-predicting-at-random. If you are at all interested in seeing this great mathematician in his element, sharing some math he likes with a wider audience and doing a great job with it, check it out. But even if you are not such a math fan, the book is worth reading, as it tells a unique tale, involving math, sure, but also a whole lot of humanity. A crisp snapshot of the whole twentieth century comes along as a bonus.

Incidentally this book made it to the 2021 Honors List of the Mathical Book Prize. I’d say this was well deserved!

I approached Ada Lovelace: Programming the Future (2020), Black’s book about Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), the woman who is today recognized as the first computer programmer in the world, with some unease. I read a lot about Ada Lovelace. And as I mentioned above, I have reviewed several books about her written for a younger audience. I have also read a lot of books about her written for a more mature audience. In short, I already knew a lot about her and her work, so I was wary. I was also a bit worried that I would find something I did not agree with in Black’s presentation, something that would not sound right to me, and that would taint my positive opinion of his meticulous work, which so far seemed to me to be not only accessible and engaging but also mathematically accurate to a surprising level (I say “surprising” because it is often really difficult to explain sophisticated technical content to a young audience, and Black has done an outstanding job with it).

Let me quickly say that my concerns were unwarranted. I liked the book a lot. Black does an excellent job telling the story of Ada, as well as the technical work she contributed to. The many mathematical ideas presented in the book are accurately described, and Black does not withhold from his reader the historical debate about exactly what parts of the work credited to her actually belongs t0 Ada. All in all this is a well-written, well-balanced account of Ada Lovelace and her achievements.

Once again Black develops the life story of his main character within the broader historical, cultural, and social context of her time. The mathematical context is presented clearly as well. Black is also an excellent storyteller. Even though I knew almost everything in the book (having already read over thirty books on Lovelace myself), I enjoyed reading it page by page, line by line, eagerly looking forward to seeing how he would tie things up.

The fifth book in Robert Black’s Mathematical Lives series is Benoit Mandelbrot: Reshaping the World (2021). The book tells the story of Benoit Mandelbrot (1924-2010), who is known as the father of fractals. Even if you have not engaged with theoretical mathematics in the past, you must have seen or heard of fractals. Even Elsa mentions them in her famous song “Let It Go”.

Here is the amazing fractal called the Mandelbrot set (named after the guy this particular book is about, because he is the one who discovered its construction and explored some of its complex features):

Mandelbrot sequence new.gif
Public Domain image from Wikipedia, from Link

You can read more about the Mandelbrot set here. But let us get back to the book.

We start with a prologue as always. This one is titled “Clouds Are Not Spheres”, a quote from Mandelbrot himself, whose work offers us an alternative way to think about the world around us, different from the standard one we are taught at school geometry classes, with their emphasis on Euclidean geometry (triangles, circles, spheres, and so on). The prologue whets our appetite, but as usual, the first chapter begins with the childhood of young Benoit and his early life with his family. We travel with the Mandelbrots as they move from one place to another, trying to find a place that is safe for their Jewish family (which, given the time period, was exceptionally difficult to do in Europe). We see Benoit thrive mathematically nonetheless.

The mathematics incorporated into this book, as I expected after having read the previous four books, reflects its main character, and is as eclectic as the person who created said mathematics. One of Mandelbrot’s main strengths seems to have been bringing together seemingly disparate ideas and seeing the connections between them in the form of certain simple rules describing complex systems. And the disparate ideas he brought together are really diverse. The book tells a fascinating story, and shows us some of the connections Mandelbrot does make, and overall, Benoit Mandelbrot: Reshaping the World is a very satisfying read.

The most recent book in Black’s Mathematical Lives series is Edward Lorenz and the Chaotic Butterflies (2022), which is about Edward Lorenz (1917-2008). Some of the adult bunnies reading this review might know that his name is closely associated with that of Benoit Mandelbrot from the previous book. The longer story is told exquisitely in a 1989 book which has now become a classic Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick. But the shorter story, as told in the two volumes by Black, is still fascinating.

Lorenz and Mandelbrot did not really work together, but their work complements one another. Lorenz began in the world of meteorology and his explorations to understand and predict weather patterns took him from computer modeling to the more general exploration of dynamical systems which are extremely sensitive to changing initial conditions. He discovered various contexts where simple tweaks on the settings of a given system led to drastically different behavior. This in turn led him to the theory of chaos.

Black once again tells his story within a completely developed context. We read about Edward Lorenz, and his childhood days. We read about how he found his way into meteorology, and how his interest in weather modeling was influenced by the Second World War. We learn about other pioneers of weather modeling and how Lorenz built upon their work. And here and there, we get a good number of glimpses into the actual math involved.

Sprinkles thinks that the books in the Mathematical Lives series by Robert Black make for excellent reading, both for young bunnies and the adult ones. From left to right: Pascal and Fermat: The Probability Pen Pals (2019), Florence Nightingale: The Lady with the Diagrams (2019), David Blackwell and the Deadliest Duel (2019), Ada Lovelace: Programming the Future (2020), Benoit Mandelbrot: Reshaping the World (2021),  and Edward Lorenz and the Chaotic Butterflies (2022).
Sprinkles thinks that the books in the Mathematical Lives series by Robert Black make for excellent reading, both for young bunnies and the adult ones. From left to right: Pascal and Fermat: The Probability Pen Pals (2019), Florence Nightingale: The Lady with the Diagrams (2019), David Blackwell and the Deadliest Duel (2019), Ada Lovelace: Programming the Future (2020), Benoit Mandelbrot: Reshaping the World (2021), and Edward Lorenz and the Chaotic Butterflies (2022).

Overall I think that each of the books in the Mathematical Lives series by Robert Black make for excellent reading, both for young bunnies and the adult ones. Young readers should probably already be somewhat curious about math to be able to get much out of the books, but once they are interested enough to pick up a book about “some guy who seems to have done some neat math” or “some lady who apparently did some cool math”, these books will definitely carry them along all the way to the end. They are well written and engaging enough to keep the reader’s attention, for sure.

Now for the adults: I am not sure anyone who is not already somewhat curious about math or mathematicians would be picking up a book of this sort, but I wish they would. These books show that math is not a stuffy subject, that math is alive, and that the people who create it, who live their lives filled with it, are fully human, with human challenges and human concerns. The historical, cultural, and the social contextualization provided in each of the books also allows us to see where we are today and how we got here from where the characters of the book were when they lived. Furthermore, the books make so many concrete connections with the real world that it is almost impossible for anyone to say math is a useless game of pure abstractions.

In some ways, these concrete connections may be a bit disturbing. War plays a significant role in the lives and the mathematics of at least three of the mathematicians in these books: Florence Nightingale in Florence Nightingale: The Lady with the Diagrams (2019), David Blackwell in David Blackwell and the Deadliest Duel (2019), and Edward Lorenz in Edward Lorenz and the Chaotic Butterflies (2022). (Especially in Lorenz’s story, we read about some pretty terrible war acts though Lorenz himself is not directly connected to them in any way whatsoever.) War also shows up in Ada Lovelace: Programming the Future (2020), when Alan Turing and the story of the breaking of the Enigma code come up, and in Benoit Mandelbrot: Reshaping the World (2021), when we see how significantly the Second World War impacted Mandelbrot.

But I still very much appreciated reading each and every one of these books. The war connections did not undermine the achievements of these amazing people for me. The problems they solved, they believed they were solving to help humanity. And for the thrill, the curiosity, the challenge of the problems themselves, which is itself such a human thing! (Of course it should also be acknowledged that mathematicians and others who work in problem-solving oriented disciplines like engineering and technology should always keep in mind to what use their efforts are being put to.)

In the end what is my answer to my original question of why the author might have chosen to focus on these six people? Without actually asking the author himself, my answer would merely be a conjecture, but here it goes: I think the author is writing about people and mathematics that he himself finds interesting and important. I am saying this because while reading these six books, I could distinctly sense the tangible, genuine interest of the author in his characters, as well as his fascination and excitement about the math he was writing about.

Also mathematically there are common themes among the works of the mathematicians in these six books. In each book, the math never stands alone; there are always clear real-world connections, both in the origins and the eventual applications of the problems they involve. And the author’s focus on these connections make the books and the math extremely engaging. The probability theory first developed by Blaise Pascal and Pierre de Fermat described in Pascal and Fermat: The Probability Pen Pals (2019) finds its fruits in some of the statistical work done by Florence Nightingale in Florence Nightingale: The Lady with the Diagrams (2019), and the game theory and probabilistic modeling done by David Blackwell in David Blackwell and the Deadliest Duel (2019). The theories of computation that Ada Lovelace’s work is a natural foundation for as described in Ada Lovelace: Programming the Future (2020) eventually allow Benoit Mandelbrot in Benoit Mandelbrot: Reshaping the World (2021) and Edward Lorenz in Edward Lorenz and the Chaotic Butterflies (2022) to see patterns and emergent phenomena that could not be easily seen without computers.

I recommend these six books to anyone willing to check them out, with no reservations, and with the strongest enthusiasm. You will learn some cool math, you will meet some very interesting people, and you will understand our current world so much better.

Marshmallow reviews Marley Dias Gets It Done And So Can You! by Marley Dias

Today Marshmallow reviews Marley Dias Gets It Done And So Can You, the 2018 book by Marley Dias. Sprinkles is asking questions and taking notes.

Marshmallow reviews Marley Dias Gets It Done And So Can You! by Marley Dias.
Marshmallow reviews Marley Dias Gets It Done And So Can You! by Marley Dias.

Sprinkles: So Marshmallow, tell us about this book.

Marshmallow: Marley Dias Gets It Done And So Can You! is an inspirational book that encourages the readers to be active and to make a difference in the world. The author is a teenager who was 14 when this book came out. She started a campaign called #1000BlackGirlBooks when she was a sixth grader because she noticed that not many books had protagonists who were black girls like herself. Maybe we can put the publisher’s video here for our readers?

S: Sure. Here it is:

Marley Dias Gets It Done – And So Can You! by Marley Dias – YouTube video by publisher.

M: I think readers might find it interesting to see the author and it gives a sneak peek into the book.

S: It seems like a pretty colorful book.

M: Yes it is. There are many pictures, a lot of photos of Marley Dias herself, and her family, and a lot of other people doing good things to improve the world. The pictures make the book a lot more engaging and much easier to read.

S: So does she talk about how she started her campaign?

M: Yes. She talks about that in the first couple chapters. The first chapter is called Herstory: Who I Am, How This All Began. The first few chapters of the book are about what she has done with the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign. Then she talks about how to properly use social media and other internet resources to make a difference in the world. The last few chapters are about how to make a difference more generally. She talks about how important it is to read a lot and learn about the world. She uses the phrase “woke” in the sense of “politically aware”, and writes about how the readers can become that way.

S: That term has been used and abused a lot in a lot of different ways in the intervening years (Wikipedia tells a bit about the evolution of the word.) But you are right, she uses it in the meaning you point out, and it would be a good thing for young bunnies to be politically aware and think about what is happening in the world.

Marshmallow is reading Marley Dias Gets It Done And So Can You! by Marley Dias.
Marshmallow is reading Marley Dias Gets It Done And So Can You! by Marley Dias.

S: You said this was an inspiring book. Can you open that up a bit?

M: It’s inspiring because it shows that children can make a difference. It also gives you ways to make such change, and Marley Dias herself is an example of doing this. So you see her example and she explains all that went into how she was able to make a difference, and you can think about your own context, your own community, your own resources, and your own passions. What you care about, what you wish were different, and so on.

S: That sounds really inspiring. Did you think about something you would like to work towards changing?

M: I am worried about climate change, and I would like to be able to do something about helping the world’s many species that are going extinct.

S: This reminds me of the last book Caramel reviewed: The Aquanaut.

M: Yes, I think I might need to read that one some day. I also would like to help children around the world who do not have access to fresh and clean drinking water and enough food.

S: So did reading Marley Dias’s book help you think about how you could help in either of these causes?

M: A little. It has motivated me to do more, because I have always thought you had to grow up first to make a difference, but maybe I don’t have to wait.

S: I think this is wise Marshmallow and indeed inspiring. So if you were to rate this book, what would you rate it at?

M: I rate it at 95%.

S: Okay, then what would you like to tell our readers as we wrap up this review?

M: Stay tuned for more amazing book reviews from the book bunnies!

Marshmallow rates Marley Dias Gets It Done And So Can You! by Marley Dias 95%.
Marshmallow rates Marley Dias Gets It Done And So Can You! by Marley Dias 95%.