Monday, January 4, 2010

Math Books Have Feelings Too

When I was in elementary school during the Mad Men era, math was drill and kill. Math was presented as a useful tool,  a way to manage money and measure yardage and lumber. By the time I was in high school, yawning through a trigonometry class,  Math seemed like its own closed off universe, one I wanted to visit as infrequently as possible.

So I'm delighted by math books that approach the subject with a sense of awe, or use math metaphorically. My hope is that children will develop an early appreciation for the subject. Our lives are filled with losses, additions, divisions  and multiplications….

 Here are five of my favorites:

Zero is the Leaves on The Tree by Betsy Franco

In this book zero means stillness, absence, silence and more:

Zero is "the sound of snowflakes landing on your mitten,"

"the ripples in the pool before the first swimmer jumps in."

(Full disclosure: contemplating nullness and emptiness and numbers, thoughts drifted to Three Dog's Night's lyrics "Cause one is the loneliest number that you'll ever do / One is the loneliest number, worse than two")

One Gorilla by Atsuko Morozumi

The narrator counts the things she loves (which are tenderly portrayed) “Here is a list of things I love. One gorilla. 2 butterflies among the flowers. And one gorilla. Three budgerigars in my house and one gorilla."  Counting as an expressive act.

Note: now that I think about it, the artwork reminds me of Henri Rousseau, painter of imaginary jungles (and subject of my upcoming book from Eerdmans).

MATHterpieces- the Art of Problem Solving by David Schwartz

Opposite a reproduction of 12 famous paintings are related items that the reader is asked to group in different ways. Dali's painting The Persistence of Memory is accompanied by the verse, "Is it a dream or is it real? / It's hard to know when art's surreal. / Dali's clocks once so precise-- / now they're melting just like ice. / Find SEVEN ways to make an 8 / group the CLOCKS, it's getting late."

Adding up melting clocks sounds like fun to me. As an advocate of exposing children to the visual arts, which rely on math (pattern, balance, repetition...) to work their charms,  I like the pairing of math and masterpiece here.

1-2-3 A Child’s First Counting Book by Alison Jay.

The gorgeous artwork conveys the emotion in this book, inviting the reader to enter a magical kingdom and count its fairy tale elements. When I opened this the first time, I sighed with happiness.

Marvelous Math, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins.

This fancifully illustrated book will get readers thinking about the many ways math touches their lives.  It includes this lovely poem by my friend Joan Graham:

Nature Knows Its Math

         the year
         into seasons,
         the snow then
         some more
         a bud,
         a breeze,
         a whispering
         the trees,
         and here
         beneath the
         orange poppies

  --© Joan Bransfield Graham

Check out a past post from Miss Rumphius for a list of math books incorporating poetry.

With my book Tyrannosaurus Math I hope to bring cheer to the word problem genre (subject of several postings here). For more information about how that book was written please visit Cynsations Craft, Career and Cheer.   Thank you Cynthia!

P.S. Please revisit this wonderful math themed poem by Mary Cornish at Poetry 180. HAPPY NEW YEAR from TC&TF!

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