genre: biographical novel-in-verse
age range: 8 and up
Thoroughly researched, creatively presented, inspiring real-life role models for girls who love math.
— Kirkus Reviews
Written in free verse, the text is welcoming, informative, pithy, wry, very readable, and occasionally haunting. . . A heartening celebration of mathematically gifted women.
Please tell us about your book.
Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math uses verse to introduce readers to seven women who used math in their work studying stars, mapping the ocean, making charts to show the need for social change, or planning space flights.
What inspired you to write this story?
As I researched Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science, math kept coming up as a vehicle for understanding, especially in today’s world. The three women profiled in Finding Wonders lived in the 1700s or 1800s, before science shifted from enjoying and understanding nature to learning about underlying patterns. I read articles that contemporary scientists wrote about girls who dream of jobs such as working with animals or improving the environment, then find that a lack of a strong math background holds them back when they reach college. I wanted to show readers age eight and up some of the joy in math to help them approach the subject with more confidence and perhaps delight. Plus women such as Caroline Herschel, Florence Nightingale, Katherine Johnson, and Vera Rubin are amazing!
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research?
Writing about women who love math – or “love” for the most part (we all can get frustrated with what we treasure) was a leap for me. Math was never my favorite subject, since I like detail more than abstraction. Grasping Mysteries isn’t a math book, but based in people, so I did my best to understand basic concepts, then present them in the context of lives which were marked by some people getting in the women’s way while others encouraged them.
What are some special challenges associated with fictionalizing a true story?
In a verse history such as Grasping Mysteries, I honor the facts that are given about someone and use the chronology of their lives as a frame. The fictionalizing comes in through developing scenes that are documented, but not the exact circumstances. I pull on details based on general recollections and invent dialogue using what’s chronicled about peoples’ characters. I lean a lot on setting, going past the biographical sketches to read about and study pictures connected to the time and place where someone lived. I worked against the prejudice some have that math is boring, emphasizing the joy that accomplishment brought.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
I love the idea of math teachers and English teachers working together. My hope is that those who love math and those who may be made anxious by math can get together and enjoy stories where math is part of the plot – but there’s plenty of other sorts of drama for those who just want to read about inspiring girls! I hope that includes boys. Everyone can relate to what it’s like to have a dream and deal with those who might stand in one’s way.
Marilyn Hilton says
This sounds like another amazing book by Jeannine Atkins. I loved Finding Wonders, and I look forward to reading Grasping Mysteries. Thank you, Caroline and Jeannine, for this interview!
I hope you enjoy!