I love books that link math and literature, and one of my favorites is Math Curse by Jon Scieszka. Published in 1995 through Viking Press, the book tells the story of a student (I’m not sure from the illustrations if it is a boy or a girl) who is cursed by the way mathematics works in everyday life. It is a tale where everything is a math problem, from tabulating teeth to calculating a bowl of corn flakes. Everything in life becomes a math problem.

First you see the math teacher, Mrs. Fibonacci, (don’t you love that name?) declare, “You know, you can think of almost everything as a math problem.” Then you watch as the student turns into a “raving math lunatic” since s/he believes “Mrs. Fibonacci has obviously put a math curse on me.”

From sunrise to sunset, the student anxiously mulls over the answers to countless calculations such as: How much time does it take to get ready and be at the bus stop? (a problem the reader can solve.). Estimate how many M Ms you would eat if you had to measure the Mississippi River using M Ms. There is even an English word problem: “If mail + box = mailbox, does lipstick – stick = lip? Does tunafish + tunafish = fournafish?” (silly, but funny.) A class treat of cupcakes becomes a study in fractions, while a trip to the store turns into a problem of money. The story continues until the student is finally free of the math curse, but then again Mr. Newton, the science teacher, regrettably says, “You know, you can think of almost everything as a science experiment.”

Math Curse is full of honest to goodness math problems (and some rather unrelated bonus questions, such as "What does this inkblot look like?"). Readers can try to solve the problems and check their answers located on the back cover of the book. The problems are perfect to get students’ minds working and thinking about how math really does apply to their everyday life.

The illustrations by Lane Smith are one of a kind. They are busy and chaotic to reflect the “math zombie” this student becomes. Many resemble a cut and paste project, with some images touching or overlapping others. Mostly dark colors are used especially when the student begins to dream s/he is trapped in a blackboard room covered with never-ending math problems. (a nightmare for many) Smith’s art work makes Scieszka's words come to life and helps to paint a picture of what is going through the mind of the main character as s/he deals with the dreaded math curse.

John Scieszka does a remarkable job of breaking down the typical school day into math problems while also adding some tongue-in-cheek and light hearted humor which every mathphobic needs. The math is perhaps a little advanced for elementary students, but the problems are perfect for middle school or high school students.

Math Curse also demonstrates how a problem may seem difficult, but if you are persistent, you can find the solution to the problem. The book teaches not to fear or be anxious about math or for that matter, any other subject in school. Despite the fact the main character is completely overwhelmed by mathematics, it allows students who struggle with the identical feeling to know they are not alone. Any student who has ever been distressed over numbers, fractions, word problems and the like will certainly identify with the main character.

As a math teacher, I think this book makes math fun as well as interesting. Although I recognize math is everywhere in everyday life, I never realized just how much until I read the Math Curse and mathematically saw the day of a typical student. I believe what sets Math Curse apart from other books is that it accurately illustrates and explains how math is actually used and applied in day-to-day life. I love the story, the message, and especially the content.

#### 1 comment:

Laura said...

Love this book as well. There was one dreadful year when I was a seventh grade math teacher and probably the highlight of that year was being able to share the book with the class.

There is also one called Science Verse, which is also fun.