Sprinkles got her paws on Dr. Shelly M. Jones’ book Women Who Count: Honoring African American Women Mathematicians (illustrated by Veronica Martins) recently and enjoyed it so much that she wanted to review it here. Below is her review. Enjoy!
There have been several books and films about African American women mathematicians and their contributions recently, following the release of the amazing 2016 movie Hidden Figures. A well-rounded collection of books, toys, and posters celebrating Katherine Johnson is reviewed at the A Mighty Girl blog. I have mentioned a couple of related books here myself at the end of my review of children’s books about Ada Lovelace. But the book I am going to tell you about today is a quite different type of book. And I believe any parent wanting to encourage their young ones to find joy in mathematics and learn about possibilities of a wide range of futures in STEM might appreciate this book.
The book introduces through brief biographical essays and clean illustrations a selection of 29 African American women who have found their career paths through mathematics. Among them are mathematicians, atmospheric scientists, computer engineers, and education researchers. In four sections, the book introduces the first three African American women with mathematics PhDs, nine pioneering mathematicians who led the way for many others along the path to a mathematical career, four of the women making up the six hidden figures in the eponymous 2016 book by Margot Lee Shetterly, and finally thirteen contemporary mathematicians who bring us to today.
Dr. Shelly Jones writes in her introduction:
“I am proud to have the opportunity to share the stories of these 29 extraordinary women so that [you] can benefit from learning about a variety of occupational fields related to mathematics. … You may use this book as a springboard into the world of mathematics. Have you ever heard of a magic square, a tessellation, or sudoku? … There is something for everyone in this book.”
Indeed the book is chock-full of fun activities that will engage young ones (aiming for both elementary and middle school kids here). There are coloring pages, there are puzzles and mazes, and there are learning activities about a range of mathematical topics which are typically not a part of a school curriculum but will be accessible to and entertaining for young people.
But of course this is not just a standard math-is-fun activity book. The author adds in her introduction:
“Have fun doing the activities, but don’t forget to read and learn about these wonderful women who happen to love mathematics!”
And that is what makes this book special. The stories of these women are inspirational and inviting. The reader is invited to think about mathematics as an exciting career path, or, perhaps more accurately, as a gateway to many different exciting career paths. In particular, seeing the illustrations of these women (and photos of the contemporary ones) might help all children see mathematics as a real possibility for themselves and their friends. As Dr. Reagan Higgins, one of the women portrayed in this book writes:
“It is important we show children who and what they can be.”
Children early on start to digest the prevalent societal message that mathematics (and more generally STEM) is for men. Furthermore, standard curricula and mainstream depictions of STEM do not offer young children of color many role models in STEM that they can identify with. This book is a neat addition to kid-friendly content created by people trying to change this status quo.
The activities are not “girly” in particular; boys and girls alike can enjoy them. And it is good for both boys and girls, of any background, to be exposed to examples of mathematicians and mathematical scientists who do not fit stereotypes and societal assumptions of who can do math. I would strongly recommend Women Who Count: Honoring African American Women Mathematicians, written by Shelly M. Jones and illustrated by Veronica Martins. to any parent interested in encouraging their young ones to engage with the ideas and people of mathematics.
The book started as a Kickstarter project and is currently published by the American Mathematical Society.