Mathical award-winning books are chosen by the Mathical selection committee’s panel of librarians, teachers, mathematicians, early childhood experts, and others. A Mathical panelist since 2015, librarian Betsy Bird joins us to share some of the panel’s favorite Mathical titles for readers ages 8-18.
Thousand upon thousands of children’s books are published every year, but of these only a small sliver contain anything related to the field of mathematics. As the Youth Materials Specialist for New York Public Library I cut my teeth on reading and assessing countless works for children. Now I am the Collection Development Manager of Evanston Public Library, where I maintain my children’s literature blog A Fuse #8 Production (hosted by School Library Journal) and occasional write my own books.
Here are three titles the Mathical Award committee has selected for inclusion in the last few years that we think you’ll really like:
Secret Coders (Vol. 1) by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes
What’s worse than going to a new school? Having to deal with your mom as one of the teachers, that’s what. Hopper’s not too thrilled about suddenly transferring to Stately Academy, but dislike turns to curiosity when she discovers some of the school’s more peculiar features. There are the birds with three eyes, that turn out to be robots that react to binary codes. There’s the mysterious little turtle-shaped robot that responds to basic coding commands. And then there’s the secret passageway, a mysterious green-faced stranger, and mysteries upon mysteries upon mysteries.
Will Hopper ever get to the bottom of it all? A math teacher by training, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Luen Yang knows how to combine the ease and accessibility of comics with beginner programming tips and tricks. So effortless it never feels like learning, this is an ideal way to entwine graphic novels and math together in a sophisticated little package.
Meanwhile by Jason Shiga
Quantum physics, parallel worlds, probability, entropy. Yes, it’s all in a day’s work for your average everyday choose-your-own-adventure book. Now just substitute the words “average” and “everyday” in that previous sentence for “extraordinary” and “twisted” and you’ve got yourself a pretty good description of Jason Shiga’s graphic title Meanwhile.
Jimmy walks into an ice cream shop. He makes a decision. Jimmy chooses vanilla or he chooses chocolate. With each decision the book takes you down a unique path. Jimmy meets and befriends a local inventor who has come up with three objects: a time machine, a SQUID which can transfer memories, and an appropriately named Killitron that can either kill everyone in the world not inside of it, or make delicious ice cream. Jimmy decides which of the three to play with and along the way discovers a horrific story behind not just the inventor’s life, but his own as well.
Shiga graduated with a degree in pure mathematics from the University of California at Berkeley, and used a V-opt heuristic algorithm running for 12 hours to aid in the discovery of the book’s 3,856 story possibilities. How many will you find?
The Unknowns by Benedict Carey
Welcome to Adjacent, the trailer park located next to the Folsom Energy Plant. Folks in Adjacent are a little odd, but they’re used to one another. Still, there’s really no one in the park quite like those kids Lady Di and Tom Jones. Outcasts in a park full of outcasts, it’s Di and Tom that are the first to notice when their beloved math tutor Mrs. Clarke is abducted. But what clues did Mrs. Clarke leave behind for them to find? Is it just a coincidence or a math puzzle just waiting to be unraveled? And why are other adults also disappearing from the park? Does it have something to do with the Energy Plant itself? Diagrams, charts, and illustrated problems will appeal to geometry-minded readers, while the pull of the narrative will hook kids with an interest in high-stakes plotting.