I’m a fan of math and strong women, so when I find a new picture book about both subjects, it is definitely one that I will check out. Fortunately there are more and more books being published that tackle subjects like this. The latest biography about a woman who loved math and plowed forward even when others thought she couldn’t or shouldn’t is Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain, by Cheryl Bardoe.
Sophie grew up in France during the French Revolution, a time of enormous upheaval. She was drawn to math at an early age and, even when her parents tried to persuade her otherwise, she solved problems at all times. Bardoe makes a hugely important point when she writes “Math, with its clear and simple laws. Math, with it’s strong sense of order. Math, which defines when the world is in balance.” I even like how it is typeset on the page to stand out. For many, math is a comfortable place because there are rules and things are either right or wrong.
As Sophie got older and wanted to study more in depth, no one would take her seriously if she was a woman, so she lied and claimed she was “Monsieur LeBlanc.” The world was shocked when they found out her secret, but it didn’t stop her from trying.
In mathematics, there are always problems that are considered “impossible” or “unsolvable.” Of course, that means that scholars aim to solve them and gain notoriety. Sophie Germain wound up solving one of those impossible problems that led to the ability to build safer buildings and bridges – the need to come up with a mathematical formula to predict patterns of vibration thereby understanding at what point vibration could break an object. In 1816, Sophie was the first woman to win a grand prize from the Royal Academy of Sciences. Her discovery impacts us every day.
I loved that Sophie wouldn’t be stopped by anyone along the way. She knew that she was just as capable as any man and wasn’t willing to stop pursuing her passion just because it was not the norm. Bardoe paints Sophie as a strong and determined woman, though I admit my favorite was when she defied her parents in order to study math even after they took her candles away. Additionally, the illustrations by Barbara McClintock are stunning. She really managed to bring the numbers themselves to life, which is how a mathematician would see them. Sophie didn’t see the world in the same way as everyone around her, and McClintock managed to convey that through her art work.
This is a great addition to any library to show young girls and boys to pursue their dreams and not worry about what anyone else says.
For other great biographies about mathematicians, you can see my posts on Margaret Hamilton and Paul Erdos.
For other biographies about strong women, check out posts listed here – there are way too many of these for me to list them out.
Each Wednesday I try to post nonfiction picture books as part of the challenge set up by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are amazing books available for kids these days. Check the linkups on Alyson’s site for more!
This book is on my list, and from recent bios, looks like we need to create a woman mathematician Hall of Fame! What a great story!
I like the math set you suggest!