The Children’s Book Council and Mathematical Science Research Institute have awarded the first Mathical: Books for Kids from Tots to Teens book prizes for books that “foster a love and curiosity for math.” Here are the four winners, one in each age category.
Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light
One Big Pair of Underwear by Laura Gehl
GRADES 3-5 and 6-8
Really Big Numbers by Richard Even Schwartz
Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano
Ten Eggs in a Nest by Marilyn Sadler, illustrated by Michael Fleming
Released January 28, 2014.
Gwen the Hen laid eggs and Red Rooster was very excited to be a father. Gwen refused to let him count the eggs before they hatched because it was bad luck. So Red just had to wait. When one egg hatched, he marched off to the market to buy the new chick one worm. But when he returned home, there were two more new chicks! He hurried back to the market after adding 1+2. Then when he returned there were three more chicks. 1+2+3=6 newly hatched chicks and off Red hurried. I bet you can guess what happened next!
This beginning reader nicely mixes counting and addition into the story. Young readers will enjoy the bustling pace of the book and the tension of what Red will find upon his return to the nest. The entire book has a warmth and sense of community that is tangible. Simple text includes lots of numbers and remains simple for new readers throughout.
Fleming’s art is cartoon-like and very child friendly. The colors pop on the white backgrounds, especially Red who is really a rainbow of colors including orange, purple and blue. The oval chicks are bouncy and cute as can be.
To sum it up, this is a great “addition” to new reader collections. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Random House.
Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives by Lola M. Schaefer
Take a unique look at what animals will do in a single lifetime in this book that combines counting, math and fascinating scientific facts. The book focuses on how many times a single animal will do a behavior during their life. The facts are based on estimations and opens with a description of how the numbers were figured out and explaining that each individual animal will be different than the estimate. The book opens with one spider’s egg sac, the sole one she will create in a lifetime. It then goes to the ten antlers that a caribou will grow and shed and moves on by tens. The book ends with one thousand tiny baby seahorses, the number a single male seahorse will carry and birth.
This is a spectacular way to introduce averages to children and estimation. It is a celebration of the information that mathematics can provide to us about nature. Schaefer has selected a wide variety of animals and intriguing facts about each of them. Readers can find more in-depth information on the animals at the back of the book. They will also find more information on averages and math there.
Schaefer’s art adds to the appeal of this book. Her illustrations have a boldness to them, a graphic quality that really works. They are flat and vibrant, clearly laying items on the page for counting. The book is a joy to page through since each page offers a new animal, a new habitat to see.
One of the most visually stimulating and smart concepts for a nonfiction picture book, this one is sure to beat the averages and be read more than once. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Paul Erdos grew up loving math from a very young age. Growing up in Budapest, Hungary, Paul loved to think about numbers. Unfortunately, he didn’t love school with all of its rules, so he was homeschooled by Fraulein, his nanny, until he went to high school. Paul grew famous for his math but he still could not take care of himself and do his own laundry, cook his meals or even butter his own bread. So when at age 21 he was invited to go to England to work on his math, he was worried about whether he could do it. It turned out that buttering bread was not that difficult and that he would follow his own sort of lifestyle that ignored the rules. So he traveled and did math around the world, staying with fellow mathematicians and relying on them to take care of him and his laundry and his meals. He was the furthest thing from a stereotypical solitary mathematician to the point that people now have an “Erdos number” that shows how closely they worked with the amazing mathematician Paul Erdos.
This is such a wonderful biography. It is a breath of fresh air in so many ways. First, it plays against the stereotype of introverted and shy mathematicians working in solitude on formulas and instead shows Erdos as a vivacious man who didn’t just work with others, but depended on them. Second, it shows mathematics as ever changing and new, something that is enticing and exciting. Heiligman uses a light tone throughout as well as an obvious respect for Erdos’ brilliance and accomplishments.
The illustrations share the same playful feel of the text. Done in bold colors and dynamic motion, they have a humor that is welcome as well. The look on Erdos’ face as he tries to butter his own bread for the first time is priceless and wonderful. Children will be amazed that such a bright man would struggle with basic tasks.
A pleasure to read, this is an unusual biography that will make a welcome addition to nonfiction shelves. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Lemonade in Winter by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Pauline is the one who looks out on a blustery winter day and thinks of running a lemonade stand. Her little brother John-John immediately thinks it’s a great idea, but her parents are sure it won’t work. So the kids set out to collect enough money to open their stand. They dig in the couch, search pockets, and look in their piggy banks. At the store they spend 24 quarters or six dollars on supplies. They rush back home to make the lemonade, the limeade and the lemon-limeade and then out onto the street to set up their stand. But no one comes. Then they decide to start marketing their stand more, and surprisingly, there is a market for lemonade in the snow.
Jenkins has taken a picture book and inserted math in places that make sense of the story. This is one book where the math really works, the counting of coins, the discounting of items, and the profits made. It’s a book that can be read just for the cheery enjoyment of lemonade and snow too. The writing is clever with the adults constantly warning the children that it won’t work and an ending that is realistic, warm and refreshing.
Karas’ illustrations are done in his signature style. I enjoyed seeing children with brown skin in a story that is not about their brown skin at all, it’s just the way they look. Karas’ art is lively and rich with small details. The careful counting of the quarters at the grocery store is just one example of how he too skillfully melded in the math with the story.
A winning picture book with math at its heart, this is a story that will have you asking for some more lemonade on a winter’s day. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
How Many Jelly Beans? by Andrea Menotti, illustrated by Yancey Labat
Released in April 2012.
I cannot count how many dismal number and math books I have read over the years. I’m lucky enough to have a mathematical kid, but finding books that he would enjoy was painful. Many math books are a lot more about concept than about being fun to read. Well, not this one! This one winningly mixes math with candy, so that even non-mathematical kids will give it a try. Aiden and Emma are just like most siblings, they are trying to get more than each other. So when Emma asks for 10 jelly beans, Aiden asks for 20! And the number just keep climbing from there. Soon, they are up to 500 jelly beans, which may be way too many to eat. But how about 1000 or 5000 or 10,000 in a year? The jelly beans get smaller and smaller until the final number of 1 million is reached only be an enormous fold-out page.
This visual sweet treat will get children able to truly visualize what the difference between thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands and a million are. The art by Labat done in black and white with only the jelly beans for tantalizing color really works. The focus is on the candy and the number. Menotti nicely inserts division into the conversation too, when the children debate how many jelly beans they could eat in a year.
I can see this over-sized book inspiring lots of counting, adding, dividing and multiplying in families, or it is also a very sweet book to share with your number-loving kid. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
An aside just for librarians, please don’t put this in the remoteness of the nonfiction section with your math books. Let it enjoy being taken home as a yummy picture book with a jelly bean and math center.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
The Absolute Value of Mike by Kathryn Erskine
Released June 9, 2011.
Mike takes care of his father, who is a rather absent-minded mathematical genius. But Mike is definitely not mathematical, despite his father’s hopes. When Mike’s father decides to send him to spend the summer with distant relatives in rural Pennsylvania to work on an engineering project, Mike sees it as a way to finally prove himself to his father. Mike discovers far more than an engineering project when he arrives. In fact, there is no engineering project at all. There is his wild-driving nearly-blind aunt, his uncle who is so deep in mourning over the death of his adult son that he can’t move, a homeless man who has good business sense and is willing to give the shirt off his back, literally, and a tattooed and pierced girl who needs a family. He finds a town that is working on a project to adopt a boy from Romania, a boy that Mike realizes is very connected to him in a personal way. Mike has a lot to learn this summer, just not about engineering.
Erskine is a chameleon of an author, changing her tone, her writing style to match this lighter novel that has a strong, meaningful core. The humor here ranges from subtle to laugh-out-loud funny observations and asides. At its heart, this is a book about a boy who doesn’t know his own strengths or his own worth, because it can’t be measured mathematically. It’s a book that is steeped in math down to its chapter titles, but at the same time speaks to the knowledge that humans and their abilities sometimes don’t add up logically.
This is also a book about loss and grief. It’s a book about handling what the world has given you either by giving up altogether or by continuing on. It’s a book about connections, building them, creating them. And about how the hardest connections to create can be the closest ones.
This is a funny, light book that reads quickly and will stun readers by being far deeper and more meaningful than they would have ever expected. Appropriate for ages 11-14.
Reviewed from ARC received from the author.
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Balancing Act by Ellen Stoll Walsh
Two mice put together a stick and rock to make a teeter-totter. With one mouse on each end, they balance. But when a salamander wants to join in, the teeter-totter tips, until another salamander comes along. When one frog jumps in, the teeter-totter really tips, but balance is restored with another jumping frog coming on. Trouble comes along though when a bird wants to join in too. For a little while there is balance with all of the animals on one side and the bird on the other. But then the weight is too much for the stick. All of the animals except the mice head off to do something else. The mice? Well, they still have a stick and a rock…
Stoll Walsh has a way with simple stories that really allows them to shine. Her use of very basic text allows her books to be used with very young children. Her art is also simplicity itself with its paper collage on a white background. She uses great color as the animals join in with a bright red salamander, teal frog and blue bird. At the same time as she is giving an engaging story, she is also introducing the concept of balancing and how to add objects together to make two sides equal. A book that offers basic math concepts in such a gentle and enjoyable way is very special.
A jolly picture book that offers equal story and concept for preschoolers. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.