Books & Literature

Book Review: Little People, Big Dreams: Ada Lovelace, by Isabel Sánchez Vegara

Author Isabel Sánchez Vegara continues her series of illustrated children’s books that focus on women who had shown courage and strength, and had enough imagination and self-belief to make their dreams come true.

Ada Lovelace was the daughter of Lady Byron, a mathematician, and the renowned English poet Lord Byron. Her father abandoned the family when Ada was only 5 weeks old and her mother was frequently absent, leaving Ada to be brought up by her grandparents and governesses.

In spite of Lord Byron’s absence, Ada’s mother feared she would become like her father and instilled in her daughter her own love of mathematics and logic. This sort of education was very unusual for girls in the mid-19th Century when it was widely believed that females were markedly less intelligent than males.

Fortunately, Ada had an aptitude for, and a love of numbers and mathematical puzzles. Nonetheless her mother was still concerned when illness confined her to bed and she spent time dreaming of inventions such as a flying machine which could move in any direction. At the time, hot air balloons were the only ‘flying machines’ and they were at the mercy of the wind so Ada’s ideas seemed fanciful to her mother.

Moving to London as a young woman, Ada met Charles Babbage, another mathematician who was building a calculating machine which he called a Difference Engine. As the wonderful illustrations by Zafouko Yamamoto make clear, most people (that is men) could not understand the purpose or the workings of Babbage’s machine. Ada was fascinated by the Difference Engine and, as she came to understand it better, she wrote instructional code for the machine and is remembered as the original computer programmer. Through her work with Babbage she was paving the way for the invention of the first computer some 100 years later.

It is interesting to note that in the two life stories I have read so far in this series (the other being about singer Ella Fitzgerald), both women, for different reasons, grew up without their parents. I can’t help wondering whether this made them all-the-more determined to fulfil their dreams.

I can highly recommend this book and, once again, the series.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Rating out of 10: 10

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin and available through Dymocks
Released: April 2018
RRP: $19.99 hardcover

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