The winners of the 2020 Mathical Book Prize have been announced. The award is given by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute and includes fiction and nonfiction for ages 2-18. Here are the 2020 winners and honor books in each category:
One Fox: A Counting Book Thriller by Kate Read
GRADES K-2 WINNER
Pigeon Math by Asia Citro, illustrated by Richard Watson
GRADES 3-5 WINNER
Solving for M by Jennifer Swender
GRADES 9-12 WINNER
Slay by Brittney Morris
PRE-K HONOR BOOKS
Round by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
One Happy Tiger by Catherine Rayner
Animal Shapes by Christopher Silas Neal
GRADES K-2 HONOR BOOKS
Is 2 a Lot?: An Adventure with Numbers by Annie Watson
Count on Me by Miguel Tanco
GRADES 3-5 HONOR BOOK
DK Life Stories: Katherine Johnson by Ebony Joy Wilkins
GRADES 6-8 HONOR BOOK
All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall
Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk (9781250137524)
Katherine loved counting and math as a young girl. She was a brilliant student who skipped three grades. However, there was no high school in her town that accepted black students. So her father worked day and night to afford to move them to a town where Katherine could attend high school. She became an elementary school teacher, because there were no jobs for research mathematicians who were women. Katherine did not give up her dream, eventually becoming a mathematician working for NASA. She worked on the Mercury missions and the Apollo missions, doing the math that allowed the Apollo 13 astronauts to return safely.
Filled with the determination and resilience it took for Johnson to become a NASA mathematician, this picture book shows the barriers that were and are in place for scientists and mathematicians who are women and people of color. Make sure to check out the note at the end that provides even more information on this incredible mathematician. The art in the book is incredibly appealing with mathematics adding complexity to the simple style.
A picture book biography that soars to great heights. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Barbara McClintock (9780316278201)
Sophie loved math from the time she was a small girl. Her parents had to take away her candles and her warm dresses to keep her in bed at night and not at work at her desk. But nothing stopped her, not even the French Revolution when she was growing up. There were no opportunities for Sophie to study in a university, so she did her homework by mail using a male name. Her work was extraordinary, but when her identity was discovered no mathematicians would return her letters, though she became very popular at dinner parties due to her reputation. In her thirties, Sophie discovered a mathematical problem that would become her focus for many years. A challenge was set to figure out the mathematics behind vibrations and the patterns they made. Years later, Sophie was the only one to submit a solution which she then worked to perfect for additional years. This time though, she worked under her own name.
Bardoe has written a lovely biography of a fascinating woman who demonstrated that women are just as good at mathematics as men are. Her math has a blend of science and math with its focus on vibrations, making it all the more complex. The book shows again and again the resilience and determination that it took for Sophie to succeed. The writing is accessible and celebratory in tone. McClintock’s illustrations incorporate collage in a subtle but profound way. She also uses numbers and formulas in the art itself, creating scenes from a scaffold of digits and action from vibration patterns.
A great picture book biography about an inspiring woman. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty (9781524767587)
When Lucy was struck by lightning as a child, she gained the ability to do genius-level math problems. She has other impacts from the lightning strike, including some OCD that has her tapping her feet three times and sitting three times before she can settle. Lucy has been homeschooled by her grandmother since the incident but now she is twelve and her grandmother wants her to go to middle school rather than college (like Lucy would prefer.) They make a deal that Lucy has to try middle school for one year, make one friend, join one activity and read one book that is not about math. Lucy decides not to tell anyone about her math skills and lowers all of her grades to make herself seem more normal. Lucy’s new class has to do a service project and she has to work with two other people. But how can she help if all she has to offer is a love of numbers that she is trying to hide?
For being such an extraordinary girl, Lucy is someone that everyone in middle school will be able to relate to. Issues starting a new school, making new friends, and finding a way to be yourself all make this middle school novel classic. Add in the math skills, lightning strike and Lucy’s need for cleanliness and her other quirks and you have a book that is something special. Throughout McAnulty makes sure that readers deeply understand Lucy at a variety of levels. Lucy is a protagonist who discovers a lot about herself in the course the book. As Lucy grows and changes, it feels entirely organic and natural.
At its heart, this book encourages us all to be our unique and quirky selves in middle school and beyond. The writing is accessible and the novel is a joy to read. The book is written with all numbers in numerical format, a clue that Lucy sees the world a bit differently. As she counts and calculates her way through her day, Lucy shows everyone that there are ways forward where you don’t want to pretend to be normal.
A stellar read, this middle school book is a book that is hard to sum up, but one you can count on. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Random House Books for Young Readers.
What in the World?: Numbers in Nature by Nancy Raines Day, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (InfoSoup)
In this rhyming counting book, the concept of numerical sets is introduced. The book opens asking “What in the world comes one by one?” It then answers, explaining that the moon, your nose and your mouth come in singles. Then the book counts upwards, each time asking the question of what comes in that set and answering it. The book ends by looking up at the stars and the infinity of them. It invites young readers to start to think about the patterns in the natural world around them.
Day has created a rhyme that makes this book an engaging mix of poetry and science. As the rhyme dances along, the book will inspire conversation and thinking of more things that come in that type of set. The book is wisely limited to a coastal area where a young boy plays, dangling his toes and fingers in the water, sets of ten.
The art is simple enough to allow this book to be both a counting book and a book about sets. Smaller children will merrily count the nine spines on the back of a fish while older children will start to think about other things in their world that match the set. The digital art is bright colored, and cheery.
An engaging math book that can be read at different levels, this rhyming science book will be enjoyed by several ages of child. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by April Chu (InfoSoup)
Ada Lovelace was born the daughter of the famous poet, Lord Byron. But she was more like her mother and interested in numbers rather than words. As a young woman, Ada invented a flying machine that she did all of the mathematics for. She spent time experimenting with wind and sails to inform her calculations. Despite a health scare that left her blind and paralyzed for some time, Ada continued to learn math and love numbers. When she met Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first mechanical computer, she found a person she could talk to about her love of numbers. It was his machine that inspired her to write the first computer program ever so that others could understand this amazing computer he had built. This makes Ada the first computer programmer.
It is inspiring to see a girl from such an early time period who was clearly a mathematical genius. She had a mother who was also interested in math and supported her daughter’s education and love of numbers throughout her life. This book shows the power of mathematics to inspire new ideas and inventions. It also demonstrates that women in computing goes back to the very beginning.
Chu’s art is done with pencil on paper and then as the copyright information says “colored on an Analytical Engine” also known as a computer. The illustrations are rich and lovely. They have interesting perspectives like looking down on Ada in the bath with her muddy boots on the floor nearby. Ada is shown as an active person, a youthful presence among older people, and shines on the page as she must have in life.
A powerful and inspirational read for children interested in math and science, this picture book will show young readers a heroine that they may never have met before. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
A little girl and her best friend, her dog, loved to do all sorts of things together. Most of all, she loved to build and he loved to unmake things. Then one day the girl had a great idea she was going to make “the most magnificent thing.” First she figured out what it would look like, how it would work, and then came the easy part, making it! She hired her dog as her assistant and they set out to find parts. She built the thing, but when she and her dog stepped back, it wasn’t magnificent at all! So she tried again, and again, and again. Finally, after trying many times, she hurt her finger and she was very angry about all of the time, and the failures, and was ready to give up. Luckily though, her assistant was there to give her encouragement to give it one more try, after a long walk.
Spires, the author of Binky the Space Cat, has created an ingenious little book. Through clever storytelling she has written about the process of trial and error, the process of following through on a design and testing it, the creative process itself. This is a young heroine with so much resilience and determination! Her failures make her all the more brilliant and successful in the end. And perhaps my favorite little twist is that people in her neighborhood find their own uses for her failed attempts.
The art has the same wonderful modern quirkiness as her Binky books. Though this is not a graphic novel format, she does use panes in her illustrations, making the iterations of her designs all the more fun to explore. Done with minimal colors except for bursts of red, the illustrations are perfect for a design process.
Get this into the hands of math teachers who will appreciate a very readable book about trial and error. It is also the perfect book for little girls to be inspired to use tools and create their own designs. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.
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.