Black Holes and Parallel Universes: Science Fiction Books CORL (Check Off your Reading List) Challenge 2014 GB Challenges Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Nonfiction Wednesday] Numbers, Stars, and Gadgets: Hypatia and Marvelous Mattie – Female Mathematician and Inventor

Myra here.


We are excited to join Kidlit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year. For September-October (til first week of November), we are featuring “Black Holes and Parallel Universes: Marvels of Science and Speculative Fiction.”

Iphigene has outdone herself with this beautiful widget she created.
Iphigene has outdone herself with this beautiful widget she created.

I thought these two nonfiction picturebooks about two amazing women who lived centuries apart but are both respected scholars, inventors, and mathematicians would be great titles to share with our fellow Nonfiction Wednesday enthusiasts as we have just launched our new reading theme. We would also welcome recommendations from you dear friends.


IMG_6236Of Numbers and Stars: The Story of Hypatia

Written by: D. Anne Love Illustrated by: Pam Paparone
Published by: Holiday House, 2006
Borrowed from the public library. Book photos taken by me.

Hypatia was born in the fourth century in Alexandria Egypt. Thanks to our current reading theme, I now know another brilliant woman thinker who lived centuries ago, a name that may not be as famous as Aristotle, Socrates, Galileo, but a highly-respected and eminent mathematician and scholar nonetheless.

Hypatia was born in the house of Theon. She is fortunate to have a professor for a father who was very progressive in his thinking. Unlike most of his contemporaries who believed that a woman’s role is limited and exclusively confined to the home, Theon declared upon Hypatia’s birth that “I will teach her everything I know.”


Theon began by teaching Hypatia basic survival skills such as how to catch fish with a spear, row a boat, and ride a horse.


She was also schooled with the fundamentals of reading and writing, and was taught to appreciate and marvel at the wondrous intensity of poetry and the intricacies of philosophy. She learned about nature, astronomy, but her greatest love was numbers:


One day Hypatia rode her horse to the university to visit her father. Leaning over his shoulder, she watched him write sentences made not of words, but of numbers. She saw the patterns the numbers made. To her they were more beautiful than the patterns on her mother’s favorite urn. One look at his daughter’s expectant face told Theon all he needed to know.

“We shall begin with arithmetic,” he said. “Later you will learn geometry and astronomy.”

Hypatia’s story gives credence to what is now discovered in gifted and talented research about eminent female mathematicians and scientists having supportive fathers who were influential in their talent development and eventual life choices.

It is also a must for readers to read the Author’s Note as it indicated the steep price that Hypatia paid for her fame at a time when it was frowned upon for females to have such tremendous influence and power as a scholar. Do find the book to know more, and hopefully it also provides young people with a greater appreciation of the many privileges they have at present, especially when it comes to pursuing their dreams, that they often take for granted.

Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became An Inventor7bhe

Written and Illustrated by: Emily Arnold McCully
Published by: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2006
Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

Mattie belonged to a poor family. Her widowed mother had difficulties making ends meet with three children (Mattie had two older brothers) and very limited job prospects. Yet despite this, Mattie found refuge in her late father’s toolbox, and her notebook where she documents her sketches, brainstorms, and various inventions. Unlike most girls who like playing with dolls and make-up kits, Mattie is “happiest with her pencil, her jackknife, and her hammer.” She would also invent little things that would make life more comfortable for her mother (such as a foot warmer as her mother stays up late, sewing, on cold evenings) or exciting for her two older brothers Charlie and Jim (with a special kite and a jumping jack just to name a few).

I especially liked McCully’s paintings here, plus the footer filled with Mattie’s notebook sketches (see below).


Mattie attended school until she was twelve years old while her older brothers and her mother took jobs in a textile mill. To amuse herself while waiting for her family to arrive home very late in the evening, she would explore the mills and the machine shops and sketch possible inventions in her notebook based on what she observed around her.


I especially liked the image above as it shows how incongruous the presence of this young girl must have been in such a forbidding factory-type-of building usually populated by men.

When she turned twelve, Mattie had to join her family to work for thirteen hours in the mill every day. When an accident happened in the mill because of a faulty machinery, Mattie designed an ingenious contraption that would prevent this from happening again. And this was the beginning of her official journey as an inventor outside of her home.


McCully also showed the many challenges that Mattie faced by virtue of her gender. What is particularly noteworthy is that time when her idea was stolen from her, and how far she needed to go to prove that she was indeed the owner of that design, and the patent should be awarded to her instead. There is also a detailed Author’s Note at the end of the book that provided further elaboration on her many inventions, as well as her traits and dispositions that allowed her to persevere and succeed notwithstanding the many obstacles stacked against her. For teachers who wish to use this in the classroom, here is an amazing Youtube Clip about Margaret E. Knight (or Marvelous Mattie)’s life:



Reading Challenge Update: 220-221 (25)


Nonfiction PictureBook Challenge: 40-41 (25)

4 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] Numbers, Stars, and Gadgets: Hypatia and Marvelous Mattie – Female Mathematician and Inventor

  1. I’ve had a student research Hypatia, so happy to see that someone has written about her, Myra. Amazing story, & amazing that we have the information still! I don’t know about the 2nd woman, Margaret Knight. That too looks wonderful. Great to have women in these biographies, too!


  2. Though not a kids book, have you read the beautiful book Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout? It might fit well with your theme!


  3. Excellent choices! I love to read more about women in math and science 🙂


  4. Looks like great PB biographies!


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