January 16, 2019

January 2019: Count on That!

0–2: Mirror Play, by Monte Shin, Minedition

2–4 : How Tall Was a T-Rex? Alison Limentani, Boxer Books Journeys), by Kjartan Poskitt, illustrated by Richard Watson, Red Shed

5–8: Maths Adventure (Flip-Flap Journeys), by Kjartan Poskitt, illustrated by Richard Watson

9–12: This is not a Maths Book, by Anna Weltman, Ivy Kids

Happy New Year, readers of all ages!

This month, we are looking at … maths books! Fear not, it doesn’t involve school text books or homework. Rather, the books in our selection for January are all about everyday maths, maths you do without realising that’s what you are doing. If you think about it, you and your young reader are constantly using things like comparing (who will get the biggest slice of pizza?), sorting (Legos in this box, toy cars in that one), counting (how many plates for the dinner table?), estimating (I’ll only be five minutes), problem-solving (We’ve only four chicken nuggets for five people), and so on. Those are numeracy skills that are worth developing as early as possible and in as fun a way as you can make it. Using maths around the kitchen, for example, is a good trick that children of all ages can benefit from (from enumerating spoons for all the guests to measuring out ingredients and calculating proportions or budgeting).

You will find tons of books for very young kids about numbers. Some use well-loved themes to convey their numerical message (think How Do Dinosaurs Count to Ten? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague), some rely on a storyline (which is good for sequencing, try Catherine Rayner’s One Happy Tiger), while others go for the sensory option, such as Wild Numbers by Bella Gomez where babies and toddlers are invited to trace the numbers with their fingers, something Maria Montessori would have approved of!

But maths goes well beyond just knowing the names of the first ten digits. Maths is also about shapes and patterns and spatial awareness, all things that come into play in the wonderfully clever Mirror Play by Monte Shin. Verse and songs come in handy here too, as they encourage pattern recognition through repetition and rhyming. Readers of age three-and-up tend to enjoy knowing exactly how big things are, and they often use themselves as a point of reference, but it’s a hard thing to visualise. Thankfully, Alison Limentani’s series is a brilliant help here, with titles ranging from How Tall Was a T-Rex? to How Much Does a Ladybird Weigh? via How Long is a Whale?

Once you’ve made your first foray into school maths, explore Maths Adventure (Flip-Flap Journeys), by Kjartan Poskitt, illustrated by Richard Watson. The pages are full of info in bite-sized chunks and small challenges and riddles for readers of 5–8. Older readers who like to literally figure out the universe should check out Clive Gifford and Paul Boston’s excellent The Book of Comparisons (for 7+). For a playful and (dare we say it?) artistic take on maths, try Anna Weltman’s This is not a Maths Books and get drawing! And if you have a 10-year-old who breathes numbers, they might enjoy How Big is 43 Quintillion by Lynn Huggins-Cooper, where they will get a chance to make sense of really big numbers and spot more cool mathematical facts in the world around them. (43 quintillion is the total number of possible configurations of the Rubik’s cube, that is to say 43 billion billions!)

Finally, let’s not forget fiction in our round-up! The now-classic The Number Devil by Hans Magnus Enzensberger follows Robert as he dreams night after night about a ‘number devil’ who guides him in a very visual and relatable way through various mathematical concepts (10+). Readers of a scientific disposition should give a go to the Frank Einstein series by Jon Scieszka and Brian Biggs (from age 8, and about science in general not specifically maths), while lovers of code and brain-teasers should pick up the Ruby Redfort series by Lauren Child (10+).

Juliette Saumande is a children’s book writer who likes to turn each book she reads with her kids (or not) into an adventure. http://juliettesaumande.blogspot.ie

0–2: Mirror Play, by Monte Shin, Minedition

This board book is really terribly clever! On each sturdy page, some strange shapes made of cardboard are waiting for little hands to manipulate them. A fold-out mirror is held against each, revealing the full picture: one half on its own doesn’t make sense, but paired with its reflection, it’s now a ladybird! a mouse! a panda! And lots more surprises. Let your young reader lead the way with this one and see how far they can get on their own. The book (with very little text) will make sure they have ‘got it’ and give them a chance to try again if they haven’t. An early primer in experimentation and observation!

2–4 : How Tall Was a T-Rex? Alison Limentani

This is part of a brilliant series of books that look at questions of scale very seriously and very simply. And since you’re asking, a T-Rex was as heavy as three hippos; as long as six lions; and it had teeth the length of bananas. Using elements of comparison that are likely known to her young readers and looking at a range of variables (weight, length etc.), Limentani draws a very complete picture of the king of dinos, making it more real and concrete than many more conventional descriptions.

5–8: Maths Adventure (Flip-Flap Journeys), by Kjartan Poskitt, illustrated by Richard Watson

All 14 pages of this brilliant board book are packed full of bite-size info that range from the know to the clever to the surprising. Through an ingenious use of flaps, it offers readers lots of riddles and challenges that can all be solved through observation, memory and deduction. In other words, you’re likely to get it all right … and learn tons of new stuff along the way. All the mathematical concepts are explored in a real-life context (a family going on a camping trip) and can then be applied to the reader’s own experience. Great fun!

9–12: This is not a Maths Book, by Anna Weltman

Who said maths and art had nothing to do with each other? Certainly not Anna Weltman, whose This is not a Maths Book (and its ‘sequel’ This is not Another Maths Book) sets out to demonstrate just the opposite. Armed with pencils, a ruler and a compass, young readers are challenged to turn circles into flowers, straight lines into curves and flat shapes into 3D pictures. The text is light, fun and crystal clear and combines with the illustrations (the ones printed on the page and the ones you’re adding yourself) to deliver the most fun, crafty and unobtrusive maths lesson you’re ever likely to get.

For more reviews check out Inis magazine which is published by Children’s Books Ireland, the national children’s books organisation whose vision is an Ireland in which books are central to every child’s life.

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