Review posted April 19, 2016.
Creston Books, 2015. 40 pages.
Hooray! A picture book biography of Ada Lovelace, a great female mathematician, the person who wrote the first computer program.
Now, for me, I preferred the graphic novel version of fact mixed with fiction found in The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, but this picture book is perfect for kids, firmly establishing that women can be truly great at math and computer science.
As a picture book biography, the book gives many pages to an incident in Ada’s childhood. Here’s the text that begins a section where Ada was trying to invent a flying machine and ended up playing in a cold pond and catching pneumonia:
And with her mother often traveling, Ada was lonely. Her journals, filled with pages of inventions and equations, kept her company.
The best part was when her sketches flew off the page and became real.
The accompanying picture shows birds flying just out of reach, including a mechanical bird. This may be unfortunately misleading – it looks like the book has turned to a book about a magic, rather than a factual biography. In fact, in the rest of the book, the illustrations simply show what’s described. Okay, there’s one exception where Ada was blind for a time from her illness, and we see what she’s imagining as she sits in the corner of the picture with eyes closed. But this flight of fancy is much more clear as a flight of fancy.
I came up with one other complaint. The book talks about Ada using Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine to calculate 12 times 15. The picture shows Ada looking closely at the machine with a completely different number showing. That’s a little confusing.
But those are admittedly minor complaints. The author nicely explains how Ada Lovelace wrote a computer program before a computer actually existed – based simply on Charles Babbage’s plans for one.
The paintings illustrating the book are gorgeous. Except for that one quibble where it’s not clear yet that the illustration is symbolic, they wonderfully accompany the story and shed light on the events, adding variety and interest.
Because Babbage never finished building the Analytical Engine, Ada never got to see her program run. But the influence of her work lives on. More than one hundred years before the invention of the modern computer, Ada had glimpsed the future and had created a new profession – computer programming.
Ada couldn’t know that one day a computer language would be named after her -- Ada. And one of Ada’s uses? To guide modern flying machines.
The girl who needed crutches ended up flying after all!