Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math

Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math is a companion book to Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science.

The seven women in this book are also scientists, but here I focused more on the ways math shaped their work. Math can show the size of land, oceans, and the universe. Math can be political, using charts and graphs to convince people of the need for social change. Math can show ways to fix practical problems, or honor mysteries. I loved learning about the courage, friendships, and families of these girls who show how scientific goals move forward when people work together.

The book is framed with two astronomers.

Caroline Herschel

Caroline Herschel was the first woman in the world to discover a comet in 18th century England and the first woman to be awarded a gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society.

Vera Rubin

The second woman honored was Vera Rubin, about a century and a half later, for finding proof for the existence of dark matter.

Two sections are devoted to women who used math to make social change.

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale is best known for her groundbreaking work as a nurse, but she also helped reform hospitals by making charts comparing death rates in clean hospitals to those in which doctors weren’t required to wash their hands or sanitize surgical tools.

Edna Lee Paisano

Edna Lee Paisano became the first Native American to work in the U.S. Census Bureau, where she used statistics to show that Native Americans weren’t getting their fair share of services. Her observations supported more just distribution.

Hertha Ayrton

Hertha Ayrton was an inventor and the first female electrical engineer.

Marie Tharp

Marie Tharp used math to find what’s hidden under the ocean and help map the ocean floor.

Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson, the math prodigy featured in the book and movie, HIDDEN FIGURES, fought racial discrimination and got a job at NASA where her work included calculating orbits and a path to the moon.

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Find Pictures of the math lovers at Pinterest


Classroom Connections


Grasping the Mysteries of Poetry, Math and Science

Writing about Pioneering Women

Women in History Q & A


Mathical Book Award for Grades 9-12

CCBC Choices 2021

NCTE Notable Poetry Books and Verse Novels 2021

Bank Street College Best Children’s Books 2021

Rise: A Feminist Book List Recommended


“As she did in Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science, Jeannine Atkins presents a distinguished sorority, drawing readers beyond the customary strictures of collective biographies and into a sensitive exploration not only of accomplishments but the resilient inner lives of women who struggled to navigate male-dominated fields.” -- Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

"Astute and richly detailed, Atkins’s free-verse biographies address head-on the challenges . . . that these passionate and determined trailblazers overcame.”  -- Horn Book Magazine

“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.” – Booklist


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