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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie German. Written by Cheryl Bardoe and illustrated by Barbara McClintock. Little Brown and Company, Hachette. 2018. $23.49 ages 8 and up

"Monsieur and Madame Germain worried that being smart would bring their daughter heartbreak and scorn. So they seized Sophie's candles ... they stopped lighting fires in her room ... and they snatched away her warm dresses, desperate to make her stay tucked in bed."

I am not intrigued by mathematics, and would not count myself among those who understand much about the subject. To look at the life and work of Sophie Germain as it is presented in this incredible book, and to know that she taught herself all that she learned about math is mind-boggling to me.

At a time when women were not allowed to attend university and without her parents' approval, Sophie was able to get secret notes from math classes, do her homework using an alias, and learn as much as she could about the subject she loved. Her tenacity held her in good stead as she worked for six years to prove a theorem that predicted patterns of vibration. It was a long and often bumpy road. Today that work has impact on the skyscrapers and bridges being built.

"Telling Sophie not to think about math was like telling a bird not to soar."

Her head was filled with ideas, and her longing to study math kept her awake while others slept, caused her parents to try any means to keep their daughter from studying a subject that was an impossible dream for a girl of that time in history. 'Nothing stopped Sophie.'

In an author's note, Cheryl Bardoe tells readers about the research done:

"Wouldn't it be wonderful if history always recorded the actions, ideas, and feelings of those who intrigue us? This book relies on Sophie's correspondence, a biography written by a close friend after her death, her journals, and writings by historians of her life and times. Even with an imperfect record, enough information exists to reveal an incredible person and story."

Her thoughtful and illuminating telling is enhanced by the remarkable artwork, done in markers, gouache and collage, by the award-winning Barbara McClintock. Ms. McClintock's note speaks of the terror she felt when asked to work on this book.

"I was an abysmal math student, and the thought of illustrating a book about a brilliant mathematician was ironic at best. Once I became involved in the work, though, I noticed parallels between Sophie and myself, and found ways to approach the project that married the mathematical with the artistic."

Nothing stopped Barbara. She has created a true sense of this thoughtful mathematical genius in spreads that evoke the period in which Sophie lived and worked, the attempts of her parents to deter her fascination with learning about the subject she loved, and the persistence she exhibited throughout her life. She fills her pages with numbers, equations, the many letters written, and the effects of vibrations in everyday life. Detailed and seamless, the illustrations bring attention to important moments in Sophie's life and to mathematical concepts, making them more accessible for the intended audience. What a celebration!

Back matter includes More About Sophie, Is This Math or Science, Discover the Effects of Vibration for Yourself, a Selected Bibliography and the notes from both author and illustrator.

When you are building your list of books about powerful girls and women, be sure this one is on it. Sophie Germain, the first woman to win a grand prize from the Royal Academy of Sciences. How truly impressive is that?!

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