Review posted January 25, 2016.
Millbrook Press, 2013. 144 pages.
2015 Mathical Honor Book
I read this book while waiting for the Metro on the way to the National Book Festival – where I got to meet the author at the Mathical booth! I already knew I enjoy his sense of humor because of his Twitter posts as well as his writing, and I’m happy that he turned toward numbers with this book.
In Numbed!, the kids from Punished! get into new trouble at the Math Museum. They go into an experimental area where they’re not supposed to go, and an angry robot zaps them so they’re numbed. First they can’t do any math at all; when they fix that (by solving a problem in the matheteria, where a special “field” helps them), they can only do addition and subtraction, but not multiplication and division. When they fix that, they still can’t do word problems or apply mathematical reasoning to anything.
Now, as a math person, I really have to work hard at suspending disbelief for this story! Multiplication is repeated addition, so the idea that the kids would be able to add and subtract but not multiply didn’t work for me. Of course, the kids figured that out – that was how they got around the problem. But that areas of math are so distinct? No, I couldn’t quite handle that! And then the hand-waving involved in the robot being able to “numb” them and the matheteria having a “field” making it easier to do math problems? Aaugh!
But I really wanted to like the book. It won a Mathical Honor! And I like the author! So let’s point out all the good things about it. First, I do like the characters – boys who can’t stay out of trouble. At the start of the book, they don’t see what math is good for – and they definitely find out it’s good for many, many things when they lose the ability to do it.
I really enjoyed the high-level problems the boys had to solve to break their curse. The boys applied creative reasoning, and the problems and solutions were all explained clearly – and we believed that the boys could figure them out, at least in the enhanced “field.”
In general? The premise was a little hard for me to get past – but in practice, the book was a whole lot of fun. It’s also a quick read – I only read it while I was waiting for the Metro, not while the Metro was moving, and finished the whole thing on National Book Festival day.
Punished! has been very popular with kids in our county. I hope they’ll also find out about Numbed!. A silly school story – with math!