Girls’ Adventures Set Mathematics in Fresh Historical-Fiction Contexts
“Historical fiction thrives in the empty spaces scholars have yet to fill,” writes Alida Becker in a recent New York Times book roundup of book in this perennially popular genre.
Some of the most popular novels of all time are historical fiction. Toni Morrison’s Beloved falls under this umbrella, as does War and Peace, To Kill a Mockingbird, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half a Yellow Sun, and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. It is a surprisingly varied and vigorous body of literature.
More recent sub-genres of this most vigorous category have sprouted. In addition to the familiar World War II scenarios and Victorian romances, we are seeing stories told from female perspectives (Madeline Miller’s Circe, for example), and authors of under-represented groups who are finding the opportunity to tell ‘buried’ stories
Now, it’s mathematics.
A new and ambitious work aims to fill a quirky set of history’s ‘empty spaces’ — historical episodes in which mathematics meets coming-of-age. Specifically, stories which feature girl protagonists using algebra and geometry to save their families. Durwood’s twin volumes, “The Adventures of Ruby Pi and the Geometry Girls” and “The Adventures of Ruby Pi and the Math Girls” offer ten stories in all.
The smart girls solving colossal problems with math include a Maya scribe hoping to preserve her family’s calendars for future generations; a tank-busting candy striper; and a no-nonsense Benin village girl. First among them is Ruby Pyradhakrishnan, an engineering student emigrated from Uttar Pradesh who encounters corruption in the imperial Raj.
Important STEM concepts are introduced in each story and more fully explained in the Notes sections. Some of mathematics’ greatest hits – Bayes’ Rule, Gauss, African geometry, Maya calendars, statistical forecasting, and number-based coding — all make an appearance. “Anything that can get girls interested in science or math is automatically a good idea,” concludes Tanzeela Siddique, math teacher and one of Durwood’s beta readers. “More than five stars …”