Friday, February 21, 2020

Instructions Not Included: How a Team of Women Coded the Future by Tami Lewis Brown & Debbie Loren Dunn, illustrated by Chelsea Beck

Instructions Not Included: How a Team of Women Coded the Future
by Tami Lewis Brwon & Debbie Loren Dunn,
illustrated by Chelsea Beck
Disney-Hyperion, 2019, 64 pages

Back in August, I reviewed a fun book called Cape (The Secret League of Heroes), in which three new friends discover they have superpowers and come to the rescue of the women who were working on a top-secret programmable computer called ENIAC in Philadelphia, in the hope that it could help win the war.

Now, in Instructions Not Included, meet three of the real women behind the computers that are so much a part of our daily lives. They are Betty Snyder, Jean Jennings, and Kay McNulty - three very different women from very different backgrounds with one thing in common - they loved math.

Which is how they found themselves in a secret lab at the University of Pennsylvania, where a hundred women called "computers" worked 24/7 solving math problems, after answering a January 20, 1942 ad in the newspaper. They were trying to figure out such things as which was the most effective angle to aim a gun and when was the best time to launch a bomb using pencils, paper and adding machines. Their goal - to win the war.
At the same time, upstairs even more top secret work was happening. A machine called the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC for short, had just been built, and now it needed to make it work. Six women, including Betty, Jean, and Kay, found themselves in the upstairs computer room.

Their job now was to create a code that could be understood by ENIAC using mathematics so it could do the calculations that the women downstairs were working on but more quickly and correctly. Did they succeed? Yes, they did and in fact, if you read the Author's Note in the back matter, you will discover all the innovations that they went on to make in the burgeoning world of computers.

Instructions Not Included is the kind of picture book I wish I had had when I was teaching IT to young kids. What a difference it might have made in my classroom. I know it is a simplistic look at the contributions of the women who worked on ENIAC and paved the way for today's computers, but it is also a book that could be used to inspire young kids, especially girls, to think about mathematics in a different way. What counts is that all the important points about the work of Betty, Jean, Kay, and all the women who worked on this secret project are covered. And they are shown as having more interests than math - Betty played the double bass, Jean loved baseball and Kay just was good at everything she did.

The colorful, stylized illustrations have a very 1940s feel to them, and each of the women is seen dressed in the same color in each illustration, and where they are seen working on ENIAC - Betty is red, Kay is green, Jean is yellow. This not only individualizes the women, but it also helps the reader tell they apart, and, interestingly, works to show each women's movements, giving the illustrations a sense of motion.

As a picture book for older readers, Instructions Not Included is an important addition to the ever growing STEM/STEAM body of literature and is an inspiring book that should be used liberally by parents, teachers, and librarians.

You can find a very useful Educator Guide courtesy of the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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