I don’t know about you, but I for one am readily excited for the release of Hidden Figures here in Ireland. Not only has the film been scooping up awards during this ceremonious season, but the story is one that is too often ignored.
As a science and technology writer, I’m painfully aware of the gender imbalance in sci-tech history. Putting the limits set by social barriers and women’s rights issues aside, there were certainly women contributing to the great discoveries of our time. Unfortunately, many of them were not as diligently documented as their male peers.
Hidden Figures, for example, tells the story of three female mathematicians who made NASA’s first human spaceflight possible. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson not only had to face being the minority gender in their field, but they were also, as African-Americans, the minority race.
To this day, Johnson continues to encourage her grandchildren and students to pursue careers in science and technology, and role models are critical to changing the face of these sectors. Now she has been immortalised by Taraji P. Henson, I hope that Johnson forever becomes a name we recollect from the history of science. Like Albert Einstein, Alan Turing, Isaac Newton and, indeed, Marie Curie.
Marie Curie, discoverer of polonium and radium, is perhaps the best-known female scientist the world over. And it was she and Ada Lovelace who inspired Ada Twist, Scientist.
Ada Marie Twist is named for both these scientific pioneers. Her fore-namesake, daughter of Lord Byron, is celebrated for writing the world’s first computer program as far back as 1843.
Like her scientific namesakes, Ada is inherently curious about the world around her. She doesn’t speak until the age of three, drinking it all in. Then, her first word comes: Why. Soon after that follows ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘where’ and ‘when’, and so starts Ada’s journey of investigating her environment and figuring out how it all comes together.
Unfortunately for Ada’s parents, her curiosity sometimes puts her in precarious positions and her experimentation can get messy. When Ada takes it too far, she is sent to the Thinking Chair, where she can think on her theories as well as her mucky methods.
What Ada learns is that questions don’t always lead to answers, but yet more questions. At the same time, her parents learn not to stifle their curious child and feed her appetite for discovery. It’s a good lesson for parent and child alike – as is the Mentos and Coke experiment depicted in the book. Do try this at home! (Just prepare the kitchen first.)
“Reading about Ada climbing up grandfather clocks, sticking the cat in the washing machine and scribbling on the wall in the name of science and discovery, your own little ones might just get ideas – and isn’t that wonderful?”
Author Andrea Beaty has a degree in biology and computer science and spent many years in the computer industry. She now writes children’s books in her home outside Chicago, and enjoyed great success from Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect.
As with any picture book, the devil is in the illustrated detail, and you might recognise David Roberts’ work from books by Julia Donaldson (Tyrannosaurus Drip, The Troll) and Jacqueline Wilson (My Brother Bernadette). Peppered throughout the scenes are fun details to explore – not to mention a clue or two as to what is causing the smell Ada is investigating!
Written in rhyming verse, the story will introduce great scientific words like ‘hypothesis’ to young readers.
Continuing a trend in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) books from the duo of Beaty and Roberts, Ada Twist, Scientist adds another member to the series who is as curious and indefatigable as her classmates.
Reading about Ada climbing up grandfather clocks, sticking the cat in the washing machine and scribbling on the wall in the name of science and discovery, your own little ones might just get ideas – and isn’t that wonderful?
- Author: Andrea Beaty
- Illustrator: David Roberts
- ISBN: 9781419721373
- Publisher:Abrams Books for Young Readers
- Age range: 5-8 years