Review of Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi!, by Art Coulson, illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight

Look, Grandma!
Ni, Elisi!

by Art Coulson
illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight

Storytelling Math (Charlesbridge), 2021. 32 pages.
Review written December 29, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s another book from the amazingly good Storytelling Math series. All of them present math concepts in a real-life setting that will appeal to children. All of them also present cultural information, not presented as “other” or “exotic” or “different,” but from the perspective of a child within that culture, excited and proud and enjoying things their family does.

In this book, Bo is working on large colorful stone marbles for the Cherokee National Holiday coming up. The marbles are used in the game Cherokee marbles, digadayosdi, and Bo wants to sell them in his family’s booth at the festival.

Bo has a lot of marbles, and he wants to display them at the booth. But when he finds a nice tray to use to display them, Grandma tells him that the tray is too big. Their booth is small and he can display the marbles in the booth, but whatever he uses needs to fit on a small mat she shows him.

So it’s a volume problem. Bo is trying to find a container with a base as small as the mat that will still display the marbles well. And not so tall that it’s hard to reach inside.

After Bo finds the perfect container (which takes lots of tries), they show him happily displaying them in his family’s booth — and then playing Cherokee marbles together to get a break.

The book weaves in some Cherokee words, and there’s a glossary at the back along with the feature at the back of every Storytelling Math book called “Exploring the Math.” In this book, that section gives ideas of activities to help kids explore volume and area. I love the way these stories are jumping-off places for more learning.

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Review of Much Ado About Baseball, by Rajani LaRocca

Much Ado About Baseball

by Rajani LaRocca

Yellow Jacket (Little Bee), 2021. 312 pages.
Review written January 4, 2022, from a library book
2022 Mathical Honor Book, grades 6-8

12-year-old Trish is new in town. She’s used to being the only girl on the baseball team and the only girl and sixth grader on the Math Puzzler team – but just when her old teammates had gotten used to her, now she has to win over a new team. Her brother Sanjay has encouraged her to win them over by being good at baseball.

Ben is back on the baseball team this summer after two years off. And he’s upset when he sees Trish – the girl who beat him for the Individual Math Puzzler championship. Now she’s going to do better than him at baseball? But they both love math and baseball, so shouldn’t they be friends?

There are hints of something magical happening this summer, some amazing treats, and then two magical books of math puzzles show up at Trish’s house and at Ben’s house. Ben right away figures out it’s magic, but Trish thinks it’s probably some special formula invisible ink. But either way, there are some fun and challenging math puzzles to solve, woven into this story of baseball, rivalry, and friendship.

Perhaps if I knew the Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing better, the plot wouldn’t have seemed quite as random. The magic didn’t really seem to operate with rules, but perhaps chaotic fairy magic, as in A Midsummer Night’s Dream doesn’t need to. Anyway, it was a fun story, and for me the math puzzles woven in made it even more fun. There’s material at the back taking some of the concepts further.

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Review of It’s a Numbers Game! Baseball, by James Buckley, Jr.

It’s a Numbers Game!

Baseball

by James Buckley, Jr.

National Geographic Kids, 2021. 128 pages.
Review written January 6, 2022, from my own copy, purchased for the Mathical awards.
Starred Review
2022 Mathical Honor Book, Grades 6-8

Math and baseball! It’s a natural pairing, and this book explores all the connections, inviting readers in with plenty of action shots on every page.

Did you know that Major League Baseball teams now hire mathematicians? There’s a spread titled “Averages Your Grandparents Know” about Pitching stats of ERA, WPCT, and WHIP. Then comes a spread called “Averages Your Grandparents (Probably) Don’t Know,” and I was a little chagrined that I fit a reader’s grandparents. But that second spread had some interesting information:

There are a lot of stats you can calculate on your own. But for some of these stats, it’s as if you need an advanced math degree to understand them! In fact, many MLB teams now employ professional mathematicians. Every MLB team has a special department that does nothing but crunch numbers. Called sports analytics, these calculations and stats are changing how players are selected and sometimes even how the game is played.

On another page I learned about a new tool used since 2015:

In recent seasons, MLB started using a new way of tracking and measuring home runs. Cameras track every movement of the ball, and computers quickly calculate information using a system called Statcast. As players and coaches study the Statcast data, they develop new ways to go after the long ball.

With statcast, they can find and report the launch angle, the speed, and the actual distance a home run ball will travel. For pitchers, they now have a much more accurate measure of the speed of a pitch and can even tell you the spin rate.

That’s some of the interesting information found in this book packed with information about baseball and every kind of statistic you can imagine. My older brother was a big Angels fan and very interested in the statistics, so I thought I would know most of what’s in this book, but it turned out to be only the part your grandparents would know!

The book does say a little bit about women’s softball, about Little League, and about baseball in other countries, but this is mostly a book about Major League Baseball. I do like, though, that each chapter has something for the reader to try. It’s usually related to statistics, but also pertaining to what the chapter discussed. Kids will learn to keep score and to read a box score, for example.

This book is packed with the numbers of baseball, including stats and records, and even numbers on jerseys that have been retired. It’s all done in an inviting format, with colors and pictures and charts. The text is in small chunks, and each page is visually interesting. I was much more engaged than I had expected to be, since I haven’t watched baseball in years.

This book will intrigue both kids who love sports and kids who love numbers, and perhaps help build overlap between those groups!

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Review of What Will Fit? by Grace Lin

What Will Fit?

by Grace Lin

Charlesbridge, 2020. 16 pages.
Review written September 30, 2021, from my own copy ordered via Amazon.com
Starred Review

What Will Fit? is a board book in Charlesbridge’s wonderful “Storytelling Math” series.

This one is perfect – exploring spatial relationships in a way that is vitally interesting to the toddlers it’s written for.

The story is board-book simple. We’ve got a little girl going to the farmer’s market with a basket. She wants to find something that fits just right in her basket. She looks at a beet, an apple, a zucchini (turned both ways), and an eggplant.

Finally, she finds a pumpkin just the right size and celebrates.

On the back spread are notes to parents with playful ways you can build your child’s spatial sense.

The package all adds up to a sweet little story for short attention spans that will springboard into conversations that will help children learn an important concept fundamental to mathematical understanding. And all in a way that is interesting to them.

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Review of Molly and the Mathematical Mysteries, by Eugenia Cheng, illustrated by Aleksandra Artymowska

Molly and the Mathematical Mysteries

Ten Interactive Adventures in Mathematical Wonderland

by Eugenia Cheng
illustrated by Aleksandra Artymowska

Big Picture Press (Candlewick), 2021. First published in 2020 in the United Kingdom. 30 pages.
Review written January 4, 2022, from my own copy
Starred Review
2022 Mathical Book Prize Honor Book, Grades 3-5

Oh, this book is delightful! It’s a lift-the-flap adventure that demonstrates intriguing mathematical oddities. I know – that doesn’t sound amazing and inviting, but this book is both of those things.

A girl named Molly gets a series of mysterious notes. We get to lift flaps and read these notes. The notes tell her what to do to get past that page. The first note, for example, tells her to open her window and turn her room inside out – at least in her imagination. Flaps open the window. Then on the next page, we’ve got an inside-out world, explaining the mathematical concept of inverses.

Some of the pages have puzzles in the flaps. An impossible staircase Molly can only escape by lifting the flaps. A maze Molly can only traverse if you lift the correct flaps. Figuring out which flaps can be folded into a cube. Weaving strips so that pink squares are hidden. Turning paper dials to reveal the correct answer. Each page has something different to figure out or uncover, and it leads you through the book along with Molly.

And the mathematical concepts are fun ones. This book helps kids think about dimensions, tiling, self-similarity, symmetry, combinations, fractals, and more. After completing Molly’s adventure, five colorful pages give the reader more mathematical information.

I had a lot of fun going through this book – and I’m an adult who already knows all the concepts. I would love to watch a kid go through it. Of course, the one drawback is that with all the flaps, this is not a good choice for a library collection. But I think a kid who had it at home would find themselves returning to it again and again.

Note: Even though this is presented as a story about Molly and is thus technically Fiction, the focus is on the mathematical concepts, so I think it fits better with Children’s Nonfiction, which is where I’ll file it.

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Review of 1 Smile 10 Toes, by Nelleke Verhoeff

1 Smile 10 Toes

by Nelleke Verhoeff

Barefoot Books, 2021. 24 pages.
Review written December 10, 2021, from my own copy, purchased via amazon.com
Starred Review
2022 Mathical Book Prize Winner, PreK

1 Smile 10 Toes is now one of my favorite board books. As with many board books, this one is part toy. All the pages except the last one are split in two, featuring a friendly imaginary animal all the same width in the middle. So you can turn parts of pages to mix and match the tops and bottoms and create many different kinds of creatures.

But the learning part is that each half-page has something to count. The only text is a numeral with the body part being featured. Some examples on top are 8 Feathers, 7 Curls, 3 Beaks, 5 Eyelashes, 4 Ears, 10 Spikes. Some examples on the bottom are 8 Toes, 9 Claws, 4 Feathers, 10 Hooves, 2 Thighs, 9 Fingers.

You can tell from the examples, the author didn’t worry about being conventional. I imagine that adults will get tired of counting things for kids long before a child will get tired of looking at these pages. I remember as a small child being fascinated with mix-and-match books, and this one has the additional bonus of teaching counting.

There’s no order to the number of things featured – all the numbers between 1 and 10 are featured, but in random order, which works well with the mix-and-match theme. You might want to wait to use it with a kid who knows that having 4 ears is silly.

No matter what, it’s a lovely way to give a small child endless things to count.

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Review of Maryam’s Magic, by Megan Reid, illustrations by Aaliya Jaleel

Maryam’s Magic

The Story of Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani

by Megan Reid
illustrations by Aaliya Jaleel

Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2021. 36 pages.
Review written December 16, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Many years ago, having just graduated from college, I went to grad school in the field of mathematics at UCLA. Out of 120 people beginning math grad students there that year, only 5 of us were women. So in 2014, when Maryam Mirzakhani became the first woman (and the first Iranian) to win the Fields Medal — the top prize in mathematics — I was delighted.

And here’s a picture book biography of this groundbreaking woman! Another thing to be delighted about. Young children can learn that brilliant mathematicians can be female.

The book tells how Maryam thought she didn’t like math as a child, but wanted to be a writer and an artist. Then she discovered geometry — and the author of this picture book says she took a storytelling artists’ approach to doing math.

It’s always a challenge to represent the work of mathematicians in a picture book biography. I like the loopy artwork the illustrator chose, tying in with the author’s explanation of Maryam’s process:

When it was hard to solve a difficult equation, Maryam covered her house’s floor with big sheets of paper and knelt to trace them with loops and lines, just as she had when she was young.

By now, Maryam was married with a child of her own. She drew so much that sometimes her daughter, Anahita, would tell people proudly that her mommy was a painter.

One of Maryam’s theorems was called “the magic wand theorem.” Here’s the explanation of that theorem:

She explained it using the image of a pool table, with balls that zigged and zagged forever. If you covered the balls in paint, how long would it take for their scattered paths to color the table completely?

Maryam’s magic wand math helped people all over the world. Astronauts could plot safer courses for their rocket ships. Meteorologists could predict weather patterns with more speed and accuracy. Doctors could understand how dangerous diseases grew and spread.

Sadly, Maryam died of breast cancer three years after winning the Fields Medal. This book beautifully explains her lasting legacy in a way children can understand.

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Two Trains Leave Paris, by Taylor Marie Frey and Mike Wesolowski

Two Trains Leave Paris

Number Problems for Word People

by Taylor Marie Frey
and Mike Wesolowski
illustrations by Patrick Torres

Abrams Image, 2019. 176 pages.
Review written August 5, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

I think this book is hilarious and utterly delightful.

What we have here is a review of high school and early college mathematics – with stories told about the elusive characters who show up in the word problems.

The first problem in the book, after a review of Algebra, tells about two trains leaving Paris, heading in different directions, and where the two trains are at their first stop. Then we’re asked:

How much distance is between Natalya and Andy when they simultaneously look back toward the city of love, thinking, Every end is a new beginning, and breaking up was for the best. No turning back now, this train only goes one way.?

This gives you an idea of the tone of this wonderfully silly book. Some problems are solved on the following page (like that first one), while the rest have answers in the back.

Here’s the second problem:

When asked his age, your math teacher, Mr. Newman, responds, “If you multiply my age by 4, then subtract 2, the answer is 110.”

A) How old is he?
B) Why does Mr. Newman talk this way?

So this book brings you snappy and funny summaries of math concepts, and then opportunities to try out what you’ve learned, while finding out about the adventures of a cast of characters you’ll come to recognize and maybe even sympathize with. The final chapter, after a review of calculus and probability and statistics, brings you to a wedding where all the characters gather.

Here’s part of the explanation at the start of the Trigonometry chapter:

You see, dear friend, Trig offers you a powerful gift: the chance to gain information about things without directly engaging with them. The people who determine which ads you see on social media know lots of Trigonometry.

And okay, if you don’t think this all sounds hilarious, this may not be the right book for you. As someone who once taught college math, I adored this book. The authors are far more interesting teachers than I ever was.

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Review of Code Breaker, Spy Hunter, by Laurie Wallmark, art by Brooke Smart

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter

How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars

words by Laurie Wallmark
art by Brooke Smart

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021. 44 pages.
Review written May 15, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This picture book biography features a female American code breaker, a woman I’d never heard of before – whose work was declassified in 2015, thirty-five years after her death.

Most of us have heard of Alan Turing, the British mathematician who broke the German’s Enigma code. I hadn’t realized that America was working separately on cracking the code and succeeded separately. And the person in charge of that effort was a woman, Elizebeth Friedman.

Her work as a code breaker began long before that. She was hired in 1916 to try to find secret messages hidden in Shakespeare’s plays by Francis Bacon, whom her employer thought was the real author of the plays. She didn’t succeed in finding any, but that got her started in decoding. She and her husband were involved in the United States government’s first code-breaking unit, the Riverbank Department of Ciphers, in 1917 during World War I. They wrote pamphlets about the techniques they developed which are considered the basis for the modern science of cryptology.

She didn’t only work during war time, although she served during both wars. She also used her methods to catch smugglers during Prohibition and later captured spies.

I’ve recently reviewed books about making and breaking codes and ciphers, so I love this one about a woman who made that her life’s work. The author includes fun details such as the dinner party that Elizebeth and her husband hosted in 1938 where the guests had to solve clues to figure out where each course was being served.

Because of the top secret nature of her work, Elizebeth wasn’t celebrated for her accomplishments in her lifetime. Here’s how this picture book biography ends:

Elizebeth was a true heroine of both World War I and World War II. She is now considered one of the most gifted and influential code breakers of all time. Yet no one knew how many codes she broke, how many Nazis she stopped, how many American lives she saved . . . until now.

There’s more information at the back of the book including hints about coded messages hidden in the illustrations. This is a perfect book for kids interested in codes.

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Review of One Grain of Rice, by Demi

One Grain of Rice

A Mathematical Folktale

by Demi

Scholastic Press, 1997. 36 pages.
Review written May 7, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
Mathical Hall of Fame

One Grain of Rice was recently chosen for the Mathical Books Hall of Fame, so I thought I should catch up – I missed this one when it was published. Yes, I’ve heard the tale in different versions, so I knew what to expect: a lowly person outwitting an autocrat with the power of exponential growth, asking for one grain of rice the first day, twice as much the next day, and doubling each day for thirty days.

This version has Demi’s exquisite artwork. The lowly person in this story is a clever peasant girl named Rani who devises a plan to feed hungry people. I also like the way the tyrant hoarding rice reforms and everybody’s happy at the end. It’s a picture book, after all.

As for the math – there’s a chart at the back that shows how many grains of rice Rani gets on each of the thirty days, so kids can see the exponential growth. I like the way the story doesn’t pretend that someone counts out each grain (couldn’t be done in a day!), but shows progressively bigger baskets transporting the rice. On the final day, two hundred and fifty-six elephants show up on a giant fold-out page bringing the contents of four royal storehouses.

I’m afraid during a pandemic is an especially good time for kids to have a basic understanding of how exponential growth works. It starts out very small, but can grow to very big if you keep on doubling. This classic book makes the ideas memorable, understandable, and beautiful.

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