Picture books about math are a terrific way to help explain concepts, especially to younger kids who may be more visual. The Boy Who Loved Math is a picture book about math that works for kids of all ages–even high schoolers!
Deborah Heiligman tells the story of Paul Erdos, a Hungarian mathematician who worked with others all over the world on mathematical problems. Paul, who was the son of math teachers, was peculiar when he was growing up, to say the least. Instead of trying to make him conform to society’s norms, though, his mother worked to accommodate his eccentricities. Though many of his quirks stayed with him throughout his life, Paul–or “Uncle Paul” as he became known to many–found that many people were pleased to deal with his odd behavior if it meant the chance to work with such a brilliant man. The Boy Who Loved Math is a good story because it’s just plain interesting to read about Erdos. You might think a biography of a mathematician would be dry and boring, but this is a book filled with humorous and interesting anecdotes, such as the time Erdos stabbed a tomato juice carton with a knife because he couldn’t figure out how to open it. It’s also a good story because it shows that a person can still be successful without conforming to all of society’s norms. In fact, that might even lead to success in some cases. The author’s note in the back of the book includes more information for those who want more detail, too.
LeUyen Pham’s illustrations are a perfect fit for this book. They’re bright and interesting and just enjoyable to look at–after we read it together, I found both my nine year old and my four year old pulling it back out again to look through several times. What is most interesting and fitting, though, is the way numbers and history are woven into each illustration. As it says in the illustrator’s note in the back, “wherever possible, [she] tried to include some sort of mathematical concept or theory into a composition, whether in the form of equations, graphs, or number groups.” The note goes on to explain, page by page, the concepts included in each picture. This would be a great discussion starter for older math students as such topics as harmonic primes–and many other types of prime numbers, amicable numbers, and other higher-level mathematical concepts are included.
Before I read this book I had never heard of Paul Erdos, but this story made him real to me, which is exactly what he wanted to do with math for the rest of the world. The Boy Who Loved Math is one of those rare picture books where students of all ages can learn new information, so make sure you check it out!