Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
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Fascinating bio of remarkable 19th-century female inventor.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Little known, previously unsung female STEM role model brought to light. First computer program explained in simple, understandable terms. Mention of other Victorian-era scientists and mathematicians.

Positive Messages

Girls can excel at math and science and forge untraveled paths. Math and invention are interesting and creative. Parents can support their kids' interests, even when society looks askance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

This female mathematician anticipated the invention of computers and programming by more than a century and envisioned other scientific advances unknown at the time. Her interests were cultivated even though they were unusual for women of that era.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, a biography of a 19th-century female mathematician and inventor, garnered a host of awards, and deservedly so. Ada's father was poet Lord Byron, and she was born with a keen math mind, distinguishing herself in the early 1800s by creating algorithms for a machine that was a precursor to computers, thereby becoming the first computer programmer. The writing is lively and captivating, and the art is rich and lush, evoking the period and drawing us into the life of this intriguing woman. A perfect choice for families looking for STEM-friendly reads. 

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What's the story?

ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE is the story of a remarkable 19th-century female mathematician and inventor. Born in 1815 London, Ada's mother left her father, poet Lord Byron, and spirited Ada to the countryside to raise her. As a young girl, Ada designed a flying machine and played with calculations in her journal. When a bout of measles left her temporarily blind and dependent on crutches for three years, her mother secured her tutors, who were distinguished mathematicians and scientists. At age 17, Ada met Charles Babbage, who shared his design for a mechanical computer, inspiring her to create mathematical instructions for the machine, thereby writing the world's first computer program "more than one hundred years before the invention of the modern computer."

Is it any good?

This extraordinary bio of a Victorian-era mathematician who anticipated computer programming is fascinating and easy to read. Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine celebrates Ada's passion for numbers and invention and shows how she weathered difficulties, including her mother's early divorce from her father, the English poet Lord Byron, and an early illness that left her on crutches. But Ada also benefited from her privileged social standing, studying with tutors and socializing with eminent scientists, and having her passion fully supported by her mother.

Author Laurie Wallmark tells the story deftly, highlighting just the right human and dramatic detail, and April Chu's art brings Ada and her passions vividly to life. A three-page author's note and time line provide more details. This is a welcome invitation for girls to join Ada at the STEM table.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the analytical engine described in Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. Do you understand how it works? What machines do we use to solve math problems today?

  • How did Ada overcome the obstacles she encountered? How was she supported in her interests? What advantages did she have?

  • Do you like to think about things to invent? What ideas do you have for new inventions?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love math and science

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