Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics, written by Laurie Wallmark and illustrated by Yevgebia Nayberg, explores the life of ground-breaking mathematician Sophie Kowalevski.
This is a particularly inspiring book because Sophie has not one, but two unique gifts. She was both a talented writer as well as an accomplished mathematician. Often thought to be such different fields of study and interest, requiring different personalities and brains it seems at first boggling and incongruous to find a main character that is both a storyteller who also achieves a doctorate in mathematics. As humans we love to catagorize and stick labels on things as if the enjoyment of one thing can entirely exclude another. This book is a lesson in doing entirely the opposite. It opens ones mind and heart to the possibility of many possibilities!
Sophie Kowalevski was able to see the beauty in both literary and scientific fields as well as the powerful and often overlooked links between the two. The creativity she found in writing allowed her the freedom of thought necessary to explore new mathematical ideas. This is such an important lesson for children today, number one, not to fear maths (as many often do) and to see it as beautiful and inspirational, but also the idea that you don’t need to be only one thing or another, but rather you can be a collection of many things!
Wallmark writes in a captivating style and had me hooked from the beginning. I love the way she began her story with the childlike game of spinning tops (a game my boys love to play!) and weaved it straight into a mathematical problem to be solved. She intersperses the text with mathematical language and the equations scattered throughout the illustrations give the book a mysterious and alluring quality. They look like secret symbols to be discovered and deciphered much in the same way as Egyptian hieroglyphs!
We follow Sophie on her journey to success through some difficult times and many social road blocks along the way, reminding us that dreams do not come on a silver platter but have to be worked for!
Whilst this book focuses on the life of an adult and discusses quite adult themes, for example Sophie’s arranged marriage, my two sons aged 8 and 10 found it fascinating. I would definitely recommend this book for an older picture book market and share it within schools to inspire young mathematicians, historians, writers and feminists. This is a powerful story about women achieving great things and many firsts as well.
The illustrations are beautiful and though stylized they are full of emotion and drama.