Subscribe to The Horn Book

Math and science nonfiction

It’s almost time to go back to school! Ease back into it with these recent books: three that make important (but eccentric) figures in math and science — a physicist, a mathematician, and an inventor — relatable to primary readers; and a fourth that presents math concepts in engaging ways.

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein, author Jennifer Berne and illustrator Vladimir Radunsky’s homage to the great physicist, tells how young Albert “hardly said a word at all.” But he “looked and wondered” at the world around him, studying and reading. Berne’s simple, clear text shows many of the adult Albert’s child-friendly inclinations (solitary boat rides, ice-cream walks, an aversion to socks), while Radunsky’s naive style and spontaneous line work create a sense of movement that perfectly mirrors Albert’s childlike sense of awe and endless search for answers. (Chronicle, 5–8 years)

Author Deborah Heiligman and illustrator LeUyen Pham combine their considerable talents in The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdős. Precocious young Paul is spoiled rotten — his doting mother and imperious “Fräulein” “cut his meat and buttered his bread and got him dressed and tied his shoes.” But where the mundane details of daily life don’t do much for Paul, numbers are a different story. Paul “thought about math whatever he was doing” as he grew into one of the world’s renowned mathematicians. Pham’s artwork is inspired, with complex numerical concepts seamlessly integrated into the pictures. (Roaring Brook, 5–8 years)

In Papa’s Mechanical Fish, Candace Fleming presents a fictional story that’s “almost true,” based on the work of nineteenth-century inventor Lodner Phillips. Young narrator Virena’s eccentric Papa is indefatigable; unfortunately, none of his inventions quite works. Then he latches onto an important idea: “an underwater vessel…a mechanical fish.” Through many iterations, he perfects his design; when finally the submarine is a success, the whole family goes along for the ride. Fleming’s telling is lively, humorous, and specific. Illustrator Boris Kulikov puts his own imaginative spin on the proceedings, pacing the book with a variety of perspectives and page layouts. (Farrar/Ferguson, 5–8 years)

“One million is a lot,” begins Millions, Billions, & Trillions: Understanding Big Numbers, the latest David A. Adler offering aimed at making math concepts fun and accessible for kids. “What does one million look like?” Let’s start with an experiment: kids are directed to pour (carefully) 1/4 cup of sugar onto a sheet of construction paper to see “about one million granules of sugar.” The text is well organized, so the concepts build on one another, and Edward Miller’s digital pictures, with smiley-faced children front and center, illustrate the ideas in kid-friendly ways. (Holiday, 6–10 years)

From the August 2013 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind