The Essence of Ada: The Story Behind a Picture Book Biography of Ada Lovelace
I love stories about women, and I love a challenge. That’s why my ears perked up when I learned about a woman who had basically invented computer programming 100 years before computers were invented! I couldn’t wait to get started, and to find a way to make this fascinating and complex woman’s life accessible to children.
I had to read a lot of books outside my comfort zone to get a handle on how Ada’s mind worked, and start to understand the world in which she lived. I needed to know enough about Ada’s childhood, her relationship with her mother (which was inextricably linked to her mother’s relationship with the brilliant but badly behaved poet, Lord Byron), the tutoring Ada received, and the friendship she made with Charles Babbage. I read scholarly books for adults about Lovelace and Babbage and the dawn of the digital age, all the while ferreting out the parts about Ada’s personality I thought would be fascinating to young readers.
To write a gratifying picture book biography—in my opinion—an author has to excite young readers about someone without trying to take on that person’s entire life story. It’s the essence of the person I am always trying to get across, as well as the importance of his or her accomplishments. Honing in on the details that will interest kids as well as trying to encapsulate the broad strokes of why what they did was important is the goal.
Ada’s life path was directly impacted by the relationship between her mother and father. We have no way of knowing what might have developed if both of her parents had raised her. But her mother was so determined not to have Ada grow up to be anything like her father that she shaped her education intentionally, making sure Ada had plenty of math and sciences in her exhaustive tutoring sessions. Ada’s mind was remarkable and she had a natural gift for mathematics and science, so it is no wonder that she took so quickly to the opportunities her mother provided. It is interesting to note that no matter how estranged her parents were, Lord Byron also expressed a desire that she not end up like him. Before he died, Byron said, “I hope the Gods have made her anything save poetical—it is enough to have one such fool in the family.” So, from the time she was four years old, Ada had tutors. By the time she was eight, she was studying French, math, and music more than six hours a day. And there was no keeping her poetic, creative spirit down. She loved to paint, draw, write, sing, and play the violin and piano! So, try as Ada’s mother might to keep the poetical imagination of her daughter in check so she didn’t grow up to be wild like her father, it was to no avail. Because invention and science take imagination, and Ada had it in spades.
In the decade between the time Charles Babbage first thought of the Analytical Engine and Ada published her notes about it, she also married William King in 1835 and had three children within four years. Ada was most certainly the dominant figure in the household, with William happy to let her take charge. He was quite aware that she was smarter than he, and it didn’t seem to bother him. She, however, did grow tired of his lack of ambition. She craved a partner who was her intellectual equal and wanted to do great things. Fortunately, she found that in her friendship with Charles Babbage. The combination of those two relationships seems to have brought her happiness, and Charles was a frequent visitor to the family’s home. Ada also loved the massive soirees Charles held in his own home. Those parties provided her with the intellectual company she craved. Guests included celebrities of the day such as Alfred Lord Tennyson, Mary Somerville, Charles Dickens, Florence Nightingale, and Charles Darwin.
Ada also packed a lot of life into her short years on earth. She had joys and adventures as well as times of financial hardship. Sadly, she dies from what is believed to have been uterine cancer just before her thirty-seventh birthday. But the work she accomplished laid a foundation for scientists to draw upon in the future and she is credited with being the first computer programmer—100 years before the invention of the computer. It is extremely gratifying to be able to encapsulate her story in order to share it with the youngest readers, and have my text be accompanied by Marjorie Priceman’s vibrant, inviting, wonderful illustrations so that kids can be as enchanted by Ada Lovelace as we are!
Tanya Lee Stone was an English major at Oberlin College and received her Master in Science from Southern Connecticut State University. She loves to write about women pushing boundaries, as well as little-known stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. She published her 100th book for kids and teens in 2017, and her work has received such accolades as the ALA Robert F. Sibert Medal, the NAACP Image Award, and the Golden Kite. Her books include Almost Astronauts, Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?, Elizabeth Leads the Way, Girl Rising, The House that Jane Built, and more. Stone travels to speak at conferences and conduct school visits around the country. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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Giveaway Information (from Stacey):
This giveaway is for a 20-minute Skype session with Tanya and for a copy of Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers? Many thanks to Tanya Lee Stone and Henry Holt, respectively, for donating these two prizes (one winner receives both prizes). For a chance to win this copy of the print or the book, please leave a comment about this post by Sunday, June 3rd, 2018 at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Wednesday, June 6th. Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.) U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only for the book.
If you are the winners of this print or the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – TANYA LEE STONE. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
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