About the Holiday
Today we remember the woman who is regarded as “the first computer programmer.” A mathematician, inventor, and scientific pioneer, Ada Lovelace wrote and was the first to publish an algorithm to generate Bernoulli numbers. Her notes published in Taylor’s Scientific Memoirs in 1842 inspired Alan Turing to design the first modern computers 100 years later. Today’s holiday celebrates all women in the science, technology, mathematics, and engineering fields. To learn more about Ada Lovelace Day visit findingada.com.
Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine
Written by Laurie Wallmark | Illustrated by April Chu
Ada was the daughter of two very distinguished—and distinct—parents. Her mother loved geometry and was known as “‘The Princess of Parallelograms.’” Her father was a world-renowned poet, “beloved for his Romanic poems.” When Ada was still a baby, however, her mother left Lord Byron and his “scandalous behavior” behind, and “Ada never saw her father again.”
As was common in Ada’s time she was often left on her own while her mother traveled. Ada filled the hours and days writing, sketching, and inventing in her journal. When she was still a little girl, she built a set of wings for a flying machine she had imagined. To discover if her wings could actually fly, “Ada needed to compute the wings’ power. She broke the problem into steps—surface area and weight, wind speed and angles.” She had to multiply and divide again and again, and while she loved calculating numbers, Ada wondered if there wasn’t an easier way to find the answers.
As she sat at her desk one day a storm blew up, sending the curtains around her open window flapping. They reminded Ada of sails and she suddenly realized that sails were like wings. She grabbed her toy sailboat and headed out to a nearby pond to test her theories. She launched her boat over and over, and “each time she adjusted the sails and studied the effect on the little boat’s speed. A storm of numbers and calculations whirled in her mind and spilled onto her pages.” She stayed by the pond until dark, and “returned home muddy, dripping wet, and triumphant.” Her nanny was not pleased. She didn’t agree with Ada’s mother, instead believing that girls “should not waste their time with math and science and experiments and other such nonsense.”
Overnight, Ada developed a high fever, and the doctor diagnosed measles. Ada’s mother was sent for. She hurried home and spent the days and nights at Ada’s bedside reading to her. Ada’s “fever finally broke, but the measles left her paralyzed and blind. To keep Ada’s mind sharp, Mama quizzed her on math problems,” asking her harder and harder questions. The numbers kept her company, and in her imagination Ada used her flying machine to travel to London.
While Ada regained her sight in a few weeks, it was three years before she could walk again. During this time Ada’s mother hired tutors to teach her higher and higher level math. One of her tutors was Mary Fairfax Somerville, a famous scientist and mathematician. Somerville invited Ada and her mother to a gathering of other influential scientists, mathematicians, and inventors. There Ada met Charles Babbage. Babbage, a mathematician and inventor, was impressed by 17-year-old Ada’s knowledge and understanding and invited her to visit his laboratory.
Ada brought her journal and shared with Charles Babbage her own work. He didn’t treat Ada as a child but as a fellow scientist and engineer. Babbage showed Ada a mechanical calculator he had designed. With the turn of a handle cylinders of numbers on the three columns of his Difference Engine spun toward the answer to a math problem Ada posed: what is 15 x 12? The machine gave the right answer: 180!
Babbage also had an idea for a mechanical computer—and Analytical Engine—that “would solve harder problems by working through them step by step.” It was an amazing concept, but Babbage hadn’t built it yet. He gave Ada his notebooks and she studied Babbage’s descriptions of how the machine might work. She realized that the Analytical Engine could work if numbers told it how.
Over several months Ada created an algorithm—a set of mathematical instructions. Her journal was filled with lines and lines of numbers and symbols. At last she checked her work for errors and found none. Ada had developed the world’s first computer program! With her creative imagination she could see that someday computers would “design powerful flying machines and majestic sailing ships. They would draw pictures and compose music. And they would play games and help with schoolwork.”
Unfortunately, Charles Babbage never finished building his Analytical Machine, and Ada never saw her program in action. But future generations remembered her and her contributions to computer programming. There is even a computer program named for her. We can imagine that the little girl who wanted to fly would be very pleased to know that Ada helps guide modern flying machines.
An extensive Author’s Note, a timeline of Ada’s life as well as a partial bibliography and resources follow the text.
Laurie Wallmark’s compelling biography of Ada Lovelace is perfectly aimed at her young audience, highlighting Ada’s childhood dreams, obstacles, and events that led her to become an influential mathematician and inventor. Wallmark’s fast-paced text, which beautifully merges lyrical and technical language to tell Ada’s story, is uplifting in its revelation that from even a young age, Ada was respected and acknowledged for her intelligence and mathematical gifts. Illuminating Ada’s predictions for future uses of the computer forms a bridge between her foresight and the experience of today’s children, bringing history alive for readers.
Gorgeous, detailed illustrations set Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine firmly in its 19th-century time period. Lush greens, reds, and golds welcome readers into Ada’s home, where her wooden and paper wings lay among blueprints for other inventions as Ada sits at her desk jotting notes in her journal. A mural in her home cleverly depicts Ada’s imaginings while she recovered from the measles, and the gathering that Ada and her mother attend is a stimulating portrait of the scientists and new inventions of the day. Kids will be amazed to see one of the first “calculators” as built by Charles Babbage. Included on the pages are images of an early loom and punch cards that influenced the development of our computers. It is fitting that the last page shows how far we have come—and how forward thinking Ada was—with an illustration of Space technology in action.
Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine is an important biography that should be included in every public and school library. For children interested in history, biographies, and the science and math fields, Laurie Wallmark’s and April Chu’s book would make a beautiful gift and addition to home bookshelves as well.
Ages 5 – 10
Creston Books, LLC, 2015 | ISBN 978-1939547200
Discover more about Laurie Wallmark and download curriculum and activity guides on her website!
View a portfolio of artwork and learn more about April Chu’s books on her website
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