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Mattie and the Machine

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Is this book about a real woman in STEAM?

Mattie and the Machine is a fictionalized yet historically accurate account of Margaret E. Knight’s fight to obtain recognition as a 19th century female inventor (she would eventually be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006). This entertaining tale is filled with romance, competition, and treachery, and features a feisty and brilliant female heroine who excels in STEM-related tasks.

In 1868 New England, fifteen-year-old Mattie is a mechanic in Columbia Paper’s all-female bag division. With paper bag sales booming after the Civil War, her boss expands the division by hiring men from his old Army regiment, including the mechanic Frank. Sparks instantly fly between Mattie and Frank, and their budding romance has her walking on air—until she discovers Frank’s pay is higher than hers. In fact, all the men receive thirty percent more than their female counterparts. The boss’s rationale? Men are inherently better with machines.

Determined to prove him wrong, Mattie proposes a bet: If she can build a machine that fully automates their paper-bag-making process, the women will receive equal pay. If she fails, she’ll resign as mechanic. The boss accepts, with one condition: Frank will also build a machine, and Mattie’s must beat his.

Mattie’s determination as she struggles with the technical challenges she encounters while taking her invention from initial concept to working prototype—in addition to the overwhelming prejudice she faces in the workplace and, eventually, the courtroom—makes her story an inspiring feminist narrative. Mattie and the Machine also includes an appendix with Margaret E. Knight’s actual patent application and drawings for her Bag Machine.

Screen Shot 2021-01-22 at 12.09.52
Screen Shot 2021-01-22 at 12.09.52
Screen Shot 2021-01-22 at 12.09.52


Lynn Ng Quezon



Santa Monica Press

Recommended Ages:

12-17 years


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Girls Love STEAM Review:

Additional Reader & Professional Reviews:

“[An] empowering, well-paced STEM narrative . . . By populating the cast with resourceful women, such as Mattie’s roommate Eliza and her coworker Ida, a widowed mother of two, Quezon examines historical societal working conditions and expectations through a nuanced, feminist lens.”
- Publishers Weekly

“[A] gracefully written work that covers historical views of gender roles in the workplace and family. Mattie’s relationships are well developed, the writing overall is smooth and engaging, and the historical setting very well drawn. An appendix shows the actual patent text and drawings for Knight’s machine. An intriguing story about a little-known woman.”
- Kirkus Reviews

“Mattie is a marvel! Her cleverness and quick thought entertain and enlighten in this 19th century world of invention and intrigue. Lynn Ng Quezon's historical novel feels authentic and accurate to the time as Mattie holds her own against men less brilliant than she. A must read for STEM students and history buffs alike!”
- Julie Chibbaro, award-winning author of Into the Dangerous World, Deadly, and Redemption

“Mattie and the Machine is a surprisingly twisty tale, full of betrayal, romance, grit, friendships, machinery, and a protagonist you can't help rooting for! With women still largely underrepresented in STEM fields, Mattie's story of perseverance remains as inspiring and relevant today as Margaret E. Knight’s was 150 years ago.”
- Marissa Meyer, New York Times bestselling author of the Lunar Chronicles

“The story of Margaret (Mattie) Knight is an inspirational tale of the trials and tribulation of the invention process, told through the eyes of a woman trail-blazer in the 19th century who must overcome overt discrimination, assumptions of her ability based on her appearance, theft, and betrayal, while on her path to success. Mattie and the Machine is refreshing in its realism: scientific innovation is indeed filled with trials, tribulation, doubt, competition, failures, and setbacks. Yet, the story is one of optimism in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles—for Mattie, the pathway to success is one of self-advocacy, and standing up for what is right in the face of one’s enemy, driven by an unwavering belief in one’s purpose. What a positive message for tomorrow’s innovator!”
- Angela D. Lueking, Ph.D., Vice Chancellor Research & Dean of the Graduate School, Montana Technological University

“What a delightful book about a little-known, but inspirational woman who persisted in the face of prejudice. This is a story which reminds us that truth matters.”
- Cliff McCarthy, archivist, Springfield Museums

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