Book Review: The Absolute Value of Mike by Kathryn Erskine


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: Simple Fun and Math


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.