Review of the Day: Eat Your Math Homework by Ann McCallum
Cooking. Math. Not the usual subject matter for a kid browsing the library shelves (though I’ve admittedly had more than one kid ask me for cookbooks, so there’s that). Still and all, when I encounter a book like Eat Your Math Homework I think about its intended audience. Look this book up on a site like Amazon and you’ll learn that it was written for the 9-12 aged set. That may well be, but what you’re dealing with is a picture book, for all practical intents and purposes. So it would be a particularly confident tween that picks this puppy up on their own. That isn’t to say it doesn’t have a grand purpose, though. When I read this collaboration between Ann McCallum and Leeza Hernandez I realized that what I had here was a book with a million uses. Parents often approach children’s librarians looking for “the math books”. Thanks to the ever-helpful Dewey Decimal system, these are easy to find. Delve a little deeper into that particular request, however, and you’ll find that what they really want are books about math that are fun, original, and cover specific topics that the kids aren’t quite getting in school. Generally this is when I call upon Stuart J. Murphy and his math titles to aid us in our hour of need, but when a truly creative approach is needed then only one solution will do: make it tasty. And tasty is the name of the game with this mathie/foodie concoction.
Fibonacci numbers, fractions, tessellations, tangrams, pi, and probability. Pair with snack sticks, chips, brownies, cookies, pizza, and trail mix. Stir together. Serve. In McCallum’s latest title, explaining simple math concepts hinges on kitchen recipes. Want to understand the idea of probability? Hand out some trail mix then follow the book’s directions in showing your guests how to calculate theoretical probability. Fractions more your thing? Make some chips out of tortillas, cutting them into different fractions along the way. Accompanied by Leeza Hernandez’s peppy illustrations, Eat Your Math Homework understands that sometimes making an idea delicious is the best way to cement a concept in the heads of your intended audience.
In this era of child obesity it’s a challenge for any author to write a book of recipes and not fill it with too many sugary or salty snacks. With that in mind, I can only assume that Ms. McCallum had to be especially careful about pairing one recipe with a math concept, and vice-versa. Of course it’s easy to flip too far on the other side of the equation and to ONLY include carrot sticks and cauliflower clumps. This book makes for a nice compromise. You have your speared pineapple in the Fibonacci Snack Sticks and your raisin and Cheerio Probability Trail Mix on the one hand and your Tessellating Two-Color Brownies and Milk and Tangram Cookies on the other. As for the recipes themselves, I’ll confess to you that I haven’t tried any of them. That said, they’re kind of fascinating. Often a seemingly simple recipe will contain a surprising “secret ingredient” that makes you want to try it out in spite of yourself. Consider the inclusion of “½ cup of orange juice” in the brownie recipe, or the “¼ cup hot chocolate drink powder” for the tangram cookies.
Debut illustrator Leeza Hernandez gives the book her own particular spin. Seemingly simple pictures show an array of mathematically bent bunnies that gleefully cook and bake the recipes found in this book while also showing rabbity versions of famous people like Fibonacci and M.C. Escher. Why bunnies? If I don’t miss my guess it probably has something to do with the fact that early on in the title we read a story in which rabbits repopulated at a Fibonacci-like rate. Once you’ve noticed that, you’ll see that Hernandez has cleverly hidden numbers on each rabbit character. And if you start from the beginning, you’ll see that those numbers are written in a Fibonacci sequence. If you don’t notice, mind, you’ll probably wonder why one rabbit sports a 610 on his soccer jersey while another wears 1597 on his party cap. Hernandez has a penchant for including these little details. I suspect more than one kid will also notice that the kicked soccer ball on one two-page spread reappears three pages later, aimed squarely at the head of the M.C. Escher bunny.
So who’s going to use this book the most? Homeschooling parents. Such is the future I see in the crystal ball for Eat Your Math Homework. This isn’t to say that they’ll be the only ones using it. Parents and teachers, once they discover its charms, will flock to the book as well. But for a homeschooler, I can’t help but think that this title is a kind of godsend. We’re all tired of books that propose to “make math fun” (whatever that may mean). Well, maybe it’s not impossible after all. Maybe it can be done. Certainly the book requires parental supervision, and not just because it takes place in the kitchen. A lot of the concepts here are explained to some extent, but leave large gaps where comprehension is needed. For example, Pi will require a little more than the rote explanation found here if kids are going to grasp the concept. This isn’t a flaw. It just means that parents shouldn’t necessarily sit their kids down with the book and then leave the room if they want it to clarify ideas about fractions and Fibonacci.
I never liked math as a kid. I did like brownies. So it’s possible that the book that managed to combine the two would have appealed far more to me than the standard school textbooks I was always handed. Everyone knows that when describing fractions it’s a good idea to explain them in terms of pizza or pie. Why not extend the idea to other mathematical concepts as well? Though I wouldn’t necessarily hand Eat Your Math Homework to a kid for their own enjoyment (though you never know) as a teaching tool for teachers and parents I doubt it can be beat. Bunnies. Edibles. Math. Yum.
Source: Final copy sent by illustrator for review.
Misc: It’s Non-Fiction Monday, all you happy campers. Geo Librarian has the round-up.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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