Friday, April 20, 2012

Book #111: Mathematickles by Betsy Franco, Illustrated by Steven Salerno

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This colorful poetry collection explores and celebrates the four seasons with short poems that use mathematical symbols, formats, and ideas. These visually stimulating poems are arranged by season, starting with fall and ending with summer. Salerno’s playful illustrations use broad brush strokes and swaths of color to create backgrounds that compliment, rather than overpower the poems. Although plot-less, the illustrations feature a young girl and her cat that experience the season along with the reader and serve to bring the separate poems together.

This delightful and creative collection of poems is an exercise in brevity and innovation. The emphasis is on choosing the perfect words and mathematical symbols to create equations and graphs. In many ways Franco poems can be viewed as mathematical rebuses, so share these poems visually as well as aurally. In addition to mathematics, Franco varies the font size to convey meaning in her bite-sized poems.

The organization of the poems by the four seasons not only gives them a logical sequence, it also drives the pace of the book forward. The illustrations are dynamic and inviting. The girl and feline provide visual interest and context to the poems by interacting with their seasonal surroundings, yet they never pull focus from the poems, which are arranged to pop to the forefront of the page. The author’s note at the beginning of the book provides a nice introduction and explanation of this concept-rich collection.

Although younger children will delight in the poems that use addition and subtraction, the book targets 9-12 year olds who are learning about long division, graphs, fractions, and other mathematical symbols and ideas. This collection would be a great way to attract children who identify better with numbers and mathematical ideas than with words. Conversely, this book can be used to bridge the gap between numbers and letters for children who have an aversion to math.

After you read the book, write your own Mathematickles. As a group choose a topic and then brainstorm words on that subject. For instance, if it the topic was cooking you might come up with a list that includes: whisk, stove, hot, cold, chop, slice, vegetables, soup. Then use those words to add and subtract: chicken + rice = homemade comfort.

This book can also be used with middle school and high school students. Try using more complex/abstract ideas such as emotions or creating poems based on a book the class has been reading. Older kids will be able to move beyond addition/subtraction to use fractions, algebraic equations, graphs, etc.


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