Monday, April 26, 2010

For Math Awareness Month and Non-Fiction Monday: Edward Einhorn

Today, Edward Einhorn, author of A Very Improbable Story: A Math Adventure, answers some questions about his book.

What was the inspiration for A Very Improbable Story? Was it an idea, an image, or....?

I knew I was interested in tackling math concepts, because when I work as a tutor, my favorite thing to tutor is math. I love the moment when students understand an idea for the first time, when what was once difficult or stressful becomes exciting and fun. And then they have that extra piece of knowledge for the rest of their lives.

One concept that often seems most imposing is probability. It can also be one of the most fun, so it seemed a great candidate for a picture book--especially because I had never seen one on the subject before. And the image of a magical cat on a boy's head--I don't know why, but it popped into my head. So I went with it.

Does the book resemble your original concept? Did you revise several times?

There were a number of revisions. The basic concept stayed the same but the details changed a lot. The biggest additions was probably the soccer theme. It both brought urgency to the story and allowed a good real world application for probability.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?

Probability is a complicated idea to explain in a very few words. Keeping the story simple and understandable while conveying knowledge was definitely the biggest challenge. But that challenge was also what I loved most about writing the book.

How would you like teachers and parents to use the book?

First of all, the book should simply be read and enjoyed. Math aside, I hope people can appreciate it and read it aloud as simply the story of a boy and a magical cat.

Then I think playing with the concept through math games like the one in the story would both be fun and instructional. I sometimes visit schools and read the book and teach a few lessons based on the book, one using Oatie Woofs (the fictional cereal from the book) and one using marbles. The Oatie Woofs lesson is on my website. Feel free to steal it! Or make up your own.

Alas, April draws to a close, so this is the final interview in celebration of Math Awareness Month. I'd like to thank Edward, Betsy and Loreen for stopping by The Cat & The Fiddle to give us insights into the creation of their books. You've proven that magic, poetry and whimsy can play a role in math instruction. We look forward to more!

Monday, April 19, 2010

For Math Awareness Month: An Interview with Betsy Franco

Today, fellow Trike Press author Betsy Franco shares some thoughts about the writing of Zero Is the Leaves on the Tree.

1. What was the inspiration for the book? Was it an idea, an image, or....?

I've always been intrigued by zero. I wanted to write a book that would capture the character of zero. I wanted to show that zero might be "nothing," but that it was very powerful, very meaningful.

2. Does the book resemble your original concept? Did you revise several times?

I rewrote it many many times because the images had to be different, precise, illustratable, poetic, and seasonal. I have file folders filled with pages filled with possible images. I also added "0 leaves," "0 sounds," "0 ripples," etc. to each page so that children would know what I meant, and so that they could repeat that refrain out loud if they were being read to.

3. What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?

I wanted to make sure that each image had an expectancy, an observable absence, a poignancy that kids could relate to. I wanted them to go way beyond the normal notions of zero and feel it in their bones.

4. How would you like teachers and parents to use the book?

I'd love for kids to write and illustrate their own zero pages in the format I use in the book.

Betsy, thanks so much for giving us some insight into your writing process. Teachers could borrow some of your techniques (like the file folder full of images) in a math/writing lesson.

Monday, April 12, 2010

For Math Awareness Month: An Interview with Loreen Leedy

I've just returned from a trip to London and Paris -where I had the great pleasure of meeting and wining and dining with Doug Cushman, the wonderful illustrator of Tyrannosaurus Math. Quel plasir!

So this is my first blog post for April- which happens to be Math Awareness Month. To mark the occasion, TC & TF asked author Loreen Leedy some questions about the writing of Missing Math.

1. What was the inspiration for Missing Math? Did it start with a concept, or an image, or...?

The initial impulse for Missing Math is unfortunately lost in the mists of time. It may have been the play on words of "number cruncher" being someone who works with numbers vs. a character who eats numbers. I generally work back and forth between scribbled words and doodles that may not end up in the final book but that are part of the process of one idea leading to another one until THE idea arises that I feel inspired to keep developing. Though the "number cruncher" character didn't end up in the final book, he got things rolling.

2. How long did it take to complete the winning manuscript? What types of changes were made (point of view, age level, etc) and why? What can writers learn from your experience with this manuscript?

I worked on the basic idea of math disappearing off and on for about 8 years, creating at least four picture book versions plus a chapter book. My editor liked the basic concept but kept rejecting each manuscript/dummy, then later would bring it up again. The only reason I kept trying was that the idea fascinated me, how pervasive math and numbers are in everyday activities from cooking to buying things to making a phone call, yet we rarely think about it. Just as an artist has to sketch out an idea to see how it looks, an author has to actually write up a story to see whether it will work or not. What writers could learn from my slog is that there are many possible ways to give expression to an idea, and you may have to spend time in dead ends before you get to drive onto the freeway(!)

3. What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?

Getting so many rejections for the same basic idea, then starting over again. At least my list of possible numbers/math scenarios came in handy for every revision (sports scores, money, postal addresses, speed limits, shoe and clothing sizes, telling time, etc.)

4. How would you like teachers and parents to use the book?

My math education was quite sterile and disconnected from any sense of real life... my hope is that teachers and parents can use my books to create a true appreciation of math and numbers, especially in children who find the topic puzzling or intimidating.

Loreen, I'm in total agreement! Thanks for sharing your writing process with us.