[Nonfiction Wednesday] From Storyteller To Award-Winning Mathematician

Myra here.

We are delighted to dedicate our Wednesdays to featuring nonfiction titles, as per usual. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, when we can.

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Our reading theme for July-September is Binge-Read: Book Series Marathon. We are expanding the range of this theme to include books that fit the following deliberately-nebulous criteria:

  1. Books that are part of an ongoing series
  2. Themed stories: books that are technically not part of a series, but fit a specific theme – e.g. intergenerational stories, nature-themed stories
  3. Short story collections
  4. Narratives of a similar genre
  5. Stories written by same author

Over the past weeks, I have been sharing stories of women mathematicians and scientists. Still in keeping with this ‘theme,’ I am thrilled to be sharing the story of Fields Medalist Maryam Mirzakhani.

Maryam’s Magic: The Story Of Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Megan Reid Illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel
Published by Balzer + Bray (2021)
ISBN: 9780062915962 (ISBN10: 0062915967) Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Maryam was a storyteller and an artist from Iran. She hated Math, and would much rather doodle in class rather than pay attention.

The numbers made her head spin! How could she care about something so pointless and cold? She would rather doodle and dream.

That is, until a Math teacher showed her that each number actually has a story to tell. It was not too long until Maryam was invited by her teachers to join Math olympiads and competitions which made her even more committed to unraveling the stories that numbers tell. Soon enough, she pursued higher education in one of the top institutions in the world: Harvard University.

The narrative surfaced her struggles as an Iranian mathematician who was also a woman and an English Language learner. As can be seen above, while her professors would lecture in English, she would scribble her notes in Farsi.

It is not surprising, then, that Maryam eventually won the Fields Medal in 2014, the first woman and Iranian who has ever received the prize. Her death in 2017 was the world’s loss.

She represented bravery and courage:

     even though she was often the only woman in a classroom,

     the youngest to lead a research project,

     the smallest to speak in front of hundreds on a stage…

I read this picturebook biography as part of a research project I am heading on exceptionalities, and immediately fell in love with it. As the author wrote in her note at the end of the book:

When I saw that Maryam was the first woman to win the most prestigious prize in mathematics, it felt shocking that that barrier had only recently been broken – in 2014! Sometimes it’s difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that there are still ‘firsts’ for women to achieve…

Clearly, there is still much that educators need to do to provide support to exceptional/high ability females, especially those coming from a non-English, non-White background. This book is a must-have! Find it.

#SurvivalStories2021 Update: 87 out of target 100

September 1, 2021 at 06:30AM Myra Garces-Bacsal