The name says it all. Math Curse. If that is not enough check out the creators – Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith!
The fun starts right with the dedication page. Scieszka says ‘If the sum of my nieces and nephews equals 15 and their product equals 54, how many nieces and nephews is this book dedicated to?’ while Smith tells us ‘If I divide the number of years my dad was an accountant (30) by the number of years I needed help with my math (30), I get one (1) dedication FOR DAD (THE C.P.A.)’.
This is just the beginning of the many chuckles and guffaws that will escape you as you delve into the book. On page 1 you meet a schoolgirl sitting on her desk with a terrified expression. Her math teacher Mrs.Fibonacci has just told the class that one can think of almost everything as a math problem. The math curse sets in.
(I must digress at this point and tell you how much this Mrs.Fibonacci intrigued my 7-year old. The child wanted to know if she had married a Mr.Fibonacci and thus acquired the last name or was she born a Fibonacci. If yes, did she have birthday parties only in her 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 8th, 13th… years? Could she only dole out cash in those denominations when she went shopping? Etc.)
The next morning our schoolgirl heroine wakes up and panics – is she running late? She lists the various things she needs to do and the time each will take and tries to add and subtract to see if she will be able to catch the school bus on time. A math problem!
Then come her clothes – she ponders over the number of white shirts and blue ones and striped ones she has and wonders which to wear. Her breakfast – how many pints, quarts, gallons of milk to use for her cereal and how many flakes? On the bus it is the dreaded math again – how many children getting on at various points along the bus route? Then she thinks of her friends’ birthdays and more math analysis – how are the brithdays distributed in the calendar? Reaching school provides no respite as she gets sucked deep into a whirl of numbers, math symbols, classmates wielding rulers and protractors - how many possibilities of arranging 24 kids in different rows? Lunchtime poses a fractions problem – if she takes 2 slices of a pizza cut into 6, what part does it make of the whole?
And on and on. Social studies, English, Phys.Ed, alien life, even a birthday being celebrated in class all convert into math problems. Our little girl soldiers on and goes home, but even buying a sweet on the way becomes a money problem. Dinner conversation becomes a complicated exercise in logic.
Exhausted, she falls asleep and dreams she is in a room with walls that are blackboards and that she is destined to live within it. She figures out a way to end it by escaping from a 'hole' made from a 'whole' and is released from the curse, everything falls in place!
All is fine till the next day in class, when the science teacher Mr.Newton declares that everything in life can be looked upon as a science experiment!
This is one of those books that work in different ways for different ages. A young child might be fascinated by the utterly quirky illustrations that look at normal everyday things in an utterly quirky way. She/he might grasp the basic idea – that math is fun and pervades our lives. An older child will get the more nuanced humour and the way the author pokes fun at math-phobia. An adult who suffers from math anxiety might begin to look at it more kindly and if already an ardent lover, will be delighted at this unique perspective of all things math.
(Interested folks can check out Science Verse, which is apparently is a sequel of sorts to this book, with Mr.Newton holding centrestage. If you do find a copy and live in India, pass it on kindly to yours truly, and I promise to give you one math lesson free).