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This picture book has math on its mind. And so does its main character who tells the story.
Though it takes her a minute to figure out that just like her family and classmates, she has a passion too! It’s not science or painting or playing the tuba. It’s math! And not only numbers, but all kinds of shapes, patterns, and concepts, which appear throughout the nuanced neutral watercolor illustrations.
(click image(s) to enlarge)
This story inspires in two ways. One, it tells us that everyone has a passion, it’s just a matter of finding the one unique to you. And two, that math is in so many more places than your textbook. It’s all around us. It’ll be hard for a reader to look at the world in the same way after a tour from this math-loving child. It just might turn math into the magic of the everyday.
“Math is all around us. It’s often hidden, and I love finding it.”
Each spread is a veritable seek and find of math-related elements, even before it becomes the focus of the narrative. On the first page, the main character plays checkers (math!). Outside the window, bare tree branches adorn the landscape in delicate designs (math!).
And so it continues, with little bits to notice on this math expedition through the natural and human-made world, the pale, sandy and gray palette making shapes rather than color shine. You’ll also find a math glossary at the back titled “My math,” in honor of the notebook the character carries with her on certain spreads.
Count on Me is an inventive book that pays tribute a subject no one is ambivalent about and that shapes our surroundings in myriad ways. To math!
Big thanks to Tundra Books for images and a review copy!
I knew there was a super cool math activity to go with this book, and I knew just the person to dream it up and show us how to do it. Cue Margaret, inspirational librarian and amazing crafter at Homemade City.
She’s sharing math quest cards with us today, perfect for that quote about math being hidden around us and the main character searching for it. This art project and math-in-nature search promises delight and discovery to anyone who makes and partakes of this project. Happy scavenger-hunting!
And, in exciting news, I must also mention that Margaret is the author of a picture book coming out from Charlesbridge in 2021, illustrated by Adam Gustavson: Flip: How the Frisbee Took Flight. Cannot wait!
Over to Margaret!
The curly-haired heroine of Count on Me by Miguel Tanco has a special love for math. While her dad has a passion for painting, her mom science, and her brother music (he plays a tuba twice his size), the smallest member of the family sees shapes and patterns everywhere. She skips stones to see concentric circles form and tracks the trajectory of a paper airplane. She finds math everywhere.
Tanco’s sweet story is followed by a book-within-a-book: the heroine’s math notebook that illustrates math concepts like fractals, polygons, curves, solid figures, trajectories and sets (in terms clear enough that even I can understand).
Inspired by the small heroine’s passion for math, I painted a deck of cards with basic concepts from the book to spark my own scavenger math hunt. If we take the time to notice, what patterns, polygons, circles, and curves can we discover in the world around us?
What you’ll need:
Art cards or index cards (I picked up these little Legion Paper samplers at my local craft store)
Pen, marker, and/or paint
I copied the math concepts illustrated in Count on Meand in an attempt to emulate Tanco’s delightful, watery illustrations, I used watercolor paint to tint them. However, young artists can skip the paint and get the job done easily enough with markers and crayons.
I drew and labeled the cards with a range of basic polygons, solid forms like cones and cylinders, patterns of concentric circles and curves, and other concepts to create a deck of 25 cards. Then my son and I went hunting through the house and around our neighborhood. This is some of what we found:
Margaret Muirhead is the author of Mabel One and Only (Dial Books for Young Readers) as well as Flip: How the Frisbee Took Flight, a nonfiction picture book slated for Fall 2021 with Charlesbridge Publishing. By day, you can find her wearing cat glasses and cardigans as a children’s librarian. In her free time, she makes wacky, colorful crafts at homemade city.
You might also like Margaret’s amazing pop-up paper craft for Blue Rider by Geraldo Valério. Check it out!
Normal Norman by Tara Lazar, illustrations by S. Britt (2016—out today!).
This is a book about trying to define “normal” by way of science—measurements and observations and interview. And I don’t think I’m giving anything away to say that, well, normal is not so easy to pin down. In fact, there may be no such thing as normal at all.
(click image(s) to enlarge)
The narrator, lab coat on and clip board in hand, proceeds to examine Norman, an orangutan. What I love is that the reader can already tell Norman isn’t normal. I mean, he’s purple and, I adore this detail—he’s wearing glasses. It’s like the reader already knows where this is going and we get to watch as the narrator figures it out.
Norman doesn’t like bananas (he likes pizza). Not normal. He doesn’t make animal noises (he speaks English). Not normal. He doesn’t live in the jungle or sleep in a pile of leaves (he sleeps in a bunk bed). Could that be normal?
The more we find out about Norman, the more he surprises us. And so do his animal friends. And this is when S. Britt’s illustrations start to remind me of Jolly Roger Bradfield‘s wonderful, imaginative books from the 60s! Those spreads match Norman—they’re colorful and offbeat, full of pizazz and unpredictability. A tiger on a motorcycle, a rhino painting a portrait.
The narrator herself abandons her project and makes music and dances and has a rambunctious time with the others.
One last thing I love is how the narrator’s science teacher stands by in many scenes. He appears at first to be the arbiter of the narrator’s performance while her project falls apart. But in the end, it’s as though he’s orchestrated this whole thing. He wasn’t looking for a definition of normal—he was looking for her to illustrate its elusiveness. Its absurdity as a notion at all.
There is no normal. Just look at Norman!
Thanks to Sterling Children’s Books for images!
Reprinted with permission from Normal Norman © 2016 by Tara Lazar, Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations © 2016 by Stephan Britt.
I’m so pleased to host Margaret Muirhead of Homemade City as craft-maker extraordinaire!
Margaret loves both picture books and crafts, so mixing the two together sends her over the moon. She is the author of Mabel, One and Only (Dial Books for Young Readers) and a devoted maker of wacky, colorful crafts at Homemade City. By day, you can find her wearing cat glasses and cardigans as the children’s librarian at Hardy Elementary School in Arlington, Mass.
Over to her!
Norman is my kind of guy. A dune-buggy-driving, jet-pack-flying, tiara-toting, out-of-the-box orangutan dude.
Norman’s multi-hued self is decidedly not orangutan normal, but it is fun-loving, just like the big guy. And tissue paper collage seemed the best way to capture Norman’s coat of many colors. Tissue paper collage is also great because it’s very forgiving in less experienced kid hands–you can smudge, rip, and layer exuberantly, and still the results are delicious.
What you need:
Tissue paper in fun colors
White card stock
Stick-on googly eyes
Next trace Norman’s orangutan bulk, his adorable eggplant-shape head, and his two longish arms onto card stock. (If that step seems onerous, we traced some basic shapes for you here.)
Brush a layer of Mod Podge onto a small area of your shape and cover with tissue squares. Make sure to overlap squares to create new hues. Seal the squares by brushing another layer of Mod Podge over the top of them. Continue in small areas until you’ve covered the shape.
Give your collage time to dry. Once dried, cut along the outlines of each shape. Adhere the face with glue or Mod Podge and attach the arms with paper fasteners (to give them a little orangutan swing).
Now for the best part: accessorize!
Add goggly eyes, brown specs, a teeny tiara and tutu, or even a dual-rocket jet pack (Norman’s preferred not-normal way to get around). Attach a popsicle stick to the back of your creation to make a puppet. Do not forget to make some friends for Norman: a magenta clarinet-playing hippo, a rollerskating giraffe, a top-hatted snake!
Come find me on twitter for a giveaway of the book! (@writesinla)
Check out the other blogs Normal Norman is visiting this month too: