Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code

Laurie Wallmark
Illustrator:  Katy Wu 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Sterling Children's Books, 2017   ISBN: 978-1454920007

When Grace was a little girl she loved to “tinker with gadgets,” and was eager to learn about new things. Wanting to learn how an alarm clock worked she took it apart, only to discover that she could not reassemble the clock properly so that it would work again. Grace looked for more clocks in the house so that she could study their inner workings, and after taking apart seven clocks Grace figured out “what made clocks tick.” Thankfully, Grace’s mother was very understanding!

Grace went on to build a doll’s house made of stone and when she realized that there was no staircase in the house she built a working elevator, complete with a cable and little electric motor, so that the dolls could move from floor to floor with ease.

Grace relished learning about difficult concepts and embraced math and science when her contemporaries were learning how to be “young ladies.” So eager was Grace to learn more about the world of science that she finished high school two years early and she prepared to go to college. Unfortunately, Grace’s gift for science and math did not help her pass her Latin exam, and she had to wait a whole year, and study a lot of Latin, before she could finally attend college.

Grace went to Vasser College to study the math and science subjects she loved so much, and then went on to graduate school at Yale University, where there were only two women in her class. When World War II broke out Grace was determined to do her part to help her country win the war. She managed to get into the Navy and because of her background she was given the job of working on the Mark I, one of the first computers ever built. Her job was to write programs for the computer, and since very few people knew how to do programming, Grace had to teach herself what to do.

At that time people communicated with computers using programs that were made up of lines of ones and zeros. Grace was able to work using this language without any problem, but for some people writing programs using just these two numbers was difficult. Why did humans have to learn computer language? “Why couldn’t computers learn people language?” Grace wondered. Grace set about figuring out how to solve this problem, and in the end created a program that changed the way in which she and her colleagues worked. Thinking in fresh, new ways and embracing change was something Grace was very good at doing.

Grace was a true trailblazer for women who wanted to have a science-based career. This wonderful story captures the essence of her determined spirit and enquiring mind, thus allowing readers to get to know a little about an extraordinary woman.