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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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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