Who Says Women Can't Be Computer Programmers?: The Story of Ada Lovelace

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Who Says Women Can't Be Computer Programmers?: The Story of Ada Lovelace Book Poster Image
Playful bio of female who pioneered programming in 1800s.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Difference Engine, early calculator. Analytical Engine, early precursor to computers -- what it could do, and how Ada envisioned it to do more. Punch cards used by the Jacquard loom to program patterns was inspiration for punch cards for computers. Name of poet Lord Byron. Other accomplished luminaries Mary Somerville, Charles Dickens, Charles Babbage. Social expectations for women in England in 1800s.

Positive Messages

Math is interesting, fun, and creative. Girls can excel at math and computer science. Girls can have visionary scientific ideas and work to make them real. Girls can overcome limiting expectations and pursue their passions. Despite challenges and illness, you can persist. Education is important and can open doors. Others who are accomplished in a field can help you.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ada loved numbers, had visionary scientific ideas. She pursued her passion, anticipating breakthroughs that wouldn't happen for a century. She worked despite setback of serious illness, and worked collaboratively, expanding on others' ideas. Fluent in French, she translated complicated papers. Though her mother tried to tamp down Ada's creative endeavors and punished her in ways now considered harsh, she made sure Ada got the best math education possible and was introduced to influential figures in her field.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Who Says Women Can't Be Computer Programmers?: The Story of Ada Lovelace is by Tanya Lee Stone and Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Marjorie Priceman, the same talented team who collaborated on Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell. The subject of this bio, Ada Lovelace, is enjoying some deserved popularity, and a few good picture book bios of her have already been published. What this one has to recommend it is its infectious spirit of fun. Lovelace was born in England in the early 1800s, and her father was famed poet Lord Byron. Though women of her class were expected only to marry well, she was educated in math, introduced to influential figures, and distinguished herself as a visionary mathematician who pioneered computer programming. The book paints young Ada as a spirited and relatable girl, full of fun, and math as a creative adventure.

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What's the story?

WHO SAYS WOMEN CAN'T BE COMPUTER PROGRAMMERS?: THE STORY OF ADA LOVELACE tells the story of Ada Lovelace, born in England in the early 19th century, the daughter of Lord Byron. When Ada was an infant, her mother left Byron and brought Ada to her family's country home. Ada, frequently sick, was tutored in math, and also loved drawing, writing, and music. She attended parties with important figures in math and the arts, where she met Charles Babbage, who'd invented an early calculator and was designing a machine that was the precursor to computers. Though the machine was never actually built, Ada expanded on his idea, devising a way to program the machine with punch cards, and envisioning a machine that could produce not only calculations, but also music and images, as computers do today.

Is it any good?

This delightful and engaging account of a 19th-century female math prodigy keeps readers amused and entertained while it inspires and expands girls' horizons. In Who Says Women Can't Be Computer Programmers?: The Story of Ada Lovelace, author Tanya Lee Stone uses snappy, inventive prose to convey the information. For instance, to tell us Ada was punished, Stone introduces Ada's cat, Madame Puff, who "never, ever made her stand in a dark closet until she promised to behave," as Ada’s mother did. And when her father fled the country, she writes, "owing enormous sums of money, Lord Byron leaped into a gilded coach he hadn't paid for." An informational section at the end, entitled "More to the Story," matches the story's breezy and conversational tone.

Marjorie Priceman's art is equally engaging. She fills the pages with fanciful detail as well as swirling numbers and equations. Her colorful ink-and-gouache paintings are full of fun detail that humanizes Ada. Young Ada's pictured with flyaway, corkscrew curls. While working at her desk, she rests her feet on her sleeping cat. And while maids outfit her in a ball gown, she stands on books and holds one to read.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the expectations for girls in 1800s England as shown in Who Says Women Can't Be Computer Programmers?: The Story of Ada Lovelace. What did Ada's mom expect of her? How did she try to restrict Ada? How did she help educate her and expand her horizons?

  • What information in the text and art shows that Ada had a privileged childhood? What advantages did she have? What disadvantages? How did Ada make the most of the advantages she was given?

  • How did Ada and Charles work together to develop the Difference Engine and Analytical Engine? Have you ever worked on a project with others? How did different strengths and ideas contribute to the project as a whole?

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