Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics

by Laurie Wallmark (Author) Yevgenia Nayberg (Illustrator)

Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics
Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade
Sophie Kowalevski was both a brilliant mathematician and a talented writer. Creative work nurtured her mathematical research, giving her a flexibility of thought she treasured. A wonderful STEAM figure, she not only did mathematical research, but she also created many literary works. This inspiring title tells the story of Sophie's journey as the first woman to receive a doctorate in mathematics, which required original research, holding a university chair in mathematics, and becoming the editor of a major scientific journal.
Select format:

School Library Journal

Gr 3-6--Wallmark's picture book biography profiles Russian mathematician Sophie Kowalevski (1850-1891). Born at a time when many universities would not accept women as students, she became the first woman to earn a doctorate for original research in mathematics. She later became a professor and earned the prestigious Bordin prize. Her perseverance and thirst for knowledge is stressed throughout the narrative. Kowalevski displayed a precocious childhood fascination with math, which followed her into adulthood. She was determined to learn advanced mathematics even when denied credit for her work, and she took on the challenge of the "spinning top problem," which took many years to solve. The watercolor and collage-style illustrations, rendered in shades of green and gold, feature handwritten equations and pages of mathematical text. The expressive faces and gestures convey the many emotional aspects of Kowalevski's journey. While the book is beautifully designed overall, the small and densely set typeface will likely make it less accessible to children. Despite this flaw, the book deserves a place on shelves as it highlights the story of a pioneering woman in the STEM fields. VERDICT A celebration of perseverance in the face of adversity and a strong addition to all youth biography collections.--Kelly Jahng, South Park Elementary School, IL

Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

In a bedroom wallpapered with her father's math problems, Sophie Kowalevski "traced the mysterious numbers and symbols, searching for patterns. She was fascinated by the secret language of calculus." But Kowalevski, born in 1850, faced extensive obstacles to becoming a professional mathematician--she had to seek private instruction and find a university willing to accept her thesis: "The University of Berlin refused to give Sophie a degree. They thought only men should receive doctorates. Not women, no matter how brilliant." Wallmark relates Kowalevski's extraordinary story, showcasing her persistence and describing her landmark achievements in the field of partial differential equations ("the mathematical tools that can be used to describe many natural phenomena, such as sound, heat, and movement"), including her Kowalevski Property, which mathematically describes the path of a spinning top. Though the small font can be hard to read, Nayberg's deep-toned, Chagall-esque illustrations depict Kowalevski's obstacles and triumphs, and portray the paths traced by spinning tops through the determined mathematician's numeric dreams. Ages 5-11. (Mar.)

Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

The first woman to receive a doctorate in mathematics gets her due. This engrossing portrait of Sophie Kowalevski (1850-1891) traces her struggles and eventual success despite assumptions about women made in her native Russia and the various countries in which she obtained an education. Though the pale, relatively small type may be a trifle difficult for young (or older) eyes to decipher, all else works quite well here. Distinctive, stylized illustrations portray Sophie's world in exaggerated proportions using unusual points of view. They are dotted with mathematical formulae while concise, accessible text tells Sophie's story, emphasizing how men's perceptions of women were ever present obstacles. Her fascination with math and her development as a mathematician pervade the text. In her childhood, she lived in a room wallpapered in math problems and explored physics by herself, much to the surprise of others. As a young adult she made a marriage of convenience that allowed her to travel from Russia to Germany, where she studied—but, as a woman, was only allowed to audit classes initially. The story continues, depicting her trials and failures as a mathematician, her struggles to be recognized in all-male academic settings, and her many achievements and awards. Informative endnotes round out this intriguing selection. An inspiring choice for budding feminists, explorers, historians, and scientists.Kirkus Reviews

Laurie Wallmark
Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark writes picture book biographies of women in STEM. Her titles include Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars; Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, which received four starred reviews and a Cook Prize Honor; Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code; Hedy Lamarr's Double Life, a Crystal Kite Winner and Cook Prize Honor recipient; and others. Laurie has an MFA in Writing from VCFA and is a former software engineer and computer science professor. You can find Laurie online at and on twitter: @lauriewallmark and Instagram: @lauriewallmark

Adelina Lirius is an illustrator based in Stockholm, Sweden. She loves painting imaginary scenes, portraying nature, and depicting the different cultures she grew up with. Adelina is the illustrator of a picture book adaptation of The Secret Garden; The Fort by Laura Perdew; and I, Too, Am Mozart by Audrey Ades, which received a starred review from School Library Journal. Visit her on Instagram @adalinaillustration.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Creston Books
Publication date
March 20, 2020
BISAC categories
JNF007090 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Science & Technology
JNF007120 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Women
JNF051190 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Science & Nature | History of Science
JNF035000 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Mathematics | General
Library of Congress categories
Soviet Union
Women mathematicians
Kovalevskaeiia, S. V

Subscribe to our delicious e-newsletter!