Maryam’s Magic: The Story of Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani

HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Jan. 2021. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062915962.
K-Gr 3–This biography of Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani (1977–2017) will appeal to kids who struggle with math. Mirzakhani will also serve as a role model for young girls who want to compete in a traditionally male-dominated arena. Young Mirzakhani loved storytelling and grew up in a culture with strict gender roles. During the war, girls and women weren’t allowed to go to school with boys, if they were permitted to attend at all. Mirzakhani, who became the first woman (and the first Iranian) to win the Fields Medal, was a pioneer in her field. As a young student, she used her natural storying talent to overcome her aversion to math by bridging the gap between words and numbers. Geometry became her entry point into mathematics. The many shapes she encountered reminded her of fictional characters in her favorite books, and she made up endless stories about them. Young readers will want to know how Mirzakhani used art to solve equations; the fact that this is not fully explained in the text is a bit of a drawback. However, the idea of merging art and math is welcome in this picture book. Jaleel’s bright, realistic illustrations capture the setting and style of dress in Mirzakhani’s homeland. Mirzakhani is drawn with light skin. A later scene at Harvard University depicts students with light skin and different shades of brown skin.
VERDICT An inspiring life story and worthwhile addition for any library looking to enhance its collection of STEAM titles or biographies of noteworthy women from the Middle East.

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