Wings to fly
ADA LOVELACE POET OF SCIENCE
Ada Lovelace: Poet of Science
Her father was the celebrated Romantic poet Lord Byron. Afraid that she was “acting like her father,” her mother — who was “rational, respectable, and strict” — saw that her daughter got a world-class scientific education.
Today, Ada Lovelace is acknowledged as the world’s first computer programmer, and the U.S. Department of Defense even named an early computer language after her. The British Computer Society has awarded a medal in her name, and each year on the second Tuesday of October, Ada Lovelace Day events celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Now young readers, especially girls, in grades 2 to 5 will have an opportunity to learn more about Lovelace’s achievements in a book written by Diane Stanley and illustrated by Jessie Hartland, published this month by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
In an era when educators are encouraging girls to neither be afraid of math and science nor to be pushed out of those fields, Lovelace’s story is particularly relevant. “Here’s this person,” Stanley said, “born to celebrity, who lived a strange, reclusive life, made to do conventional things, and then just soared on her own. She followed her own interests and abilities and made this really great contribution. She had a good mind, a good education, and wanted to do something with it. The message is that you [can] do anything. Don’t let somebody tell you you can’t do something because you’re a girl.”
Ada Lovelace: Poet of Science opens with a story illustrating Lovelace’s imagination. As a child, she observed birds and then designed wings and a harness for herself, fantasizing about attaching them to her back and flying house to house to deliver the mail. That was too much for her mother, whose marriage to Lord Byron had only lasted a year. Fearing Byron’s wild influence, she began bringing in private tutors to educate her daughter in science, math, chemistry, and biology.
In 1833, at age seventeen, Lovelace met Charles Babbage, a British mathematician and mechanical engineer who had invented a calculating machine. A decade later, to help
win financial support for his work, Lovelace translated an article on Babbage’s Analytical Engine from French into English. Babbage asked her to add notes showing the public how the device would work, and Lovelace showed how Bernoulli numbers — a complicated sequence named after the Swiss mathematician Jacob Bernoulli — could be coded on the machine. She also speculated on other possible uses for the engine, including playing games such as chess and checkers, writing music, and reproducing images. Babbage’s machine, considered the first fully programmable digital computer, was powered by steam and far too expensive to build in his lifetime, although a replica is currently being constructed by London’s Science Museum. Lovelace — who died in 1852 at thirty-six, the same age as her father — never wrote another scientific paper.
Stanley, a Santa Fe author who has written and/or illustrated 58 books for children, was asked by Paula Wiseman, who has her own imprint at Simon & Schuster, to take on the Ada Lovelace project, which became her 13th biography for young readers (the first profiled Peter
the Great). Stanley’s Shaka: King of the Zulus was named a New York Times Best Illustrated Book, and 10 of her works have been designated Notable Books by the American Library Association. She’s also been honored with the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Golden Kite Award.
This time around, Stanley said, there wasn’t much resource material. She relied heavily on a book by Betty Alexandra Toole, published in 1992, which included a selection of Lovelace’s letters that Toole hand-copied at the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Benjamin Woolley’s The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason and Byron’s Daughter, published in 1999, was another source.
After getting her bachelor’s degree from Trinity University, Stanley earned a master’s degree in medical and biological illustration from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and worked as a medical illustrator, a graphic designer for Dell Publishing, and an art director at G.P. Putnam’s Sons. She became an illustrator of children’s books, often completing several a year, before starting to write her own stories. It was the Peter the Great biography that put her on the map, she said.
Stanley’s fiction titles for children include The Giant and the Beanstalk (HarperCollins, 2004) and Rumpelstiltskin’s
Daughter (HarperCollins, 2002), as well as some novels for older readers. Next summer HarperCollins will publish her middle-grade novel Joplin, Wishing, a story set in New York about a girl who is stuck in time and an evil magician who runs an antique shop.
Ada Lovelace by Margaret Sarah Carpenter, 1836