Math Read-Alouds

Carol wrote recently about String, Straight-Edge, and Shadow: The Story of Geometry and the idea of a story about a mathematical concept seemed like a great idea. We’re mostly book geeks around here, not “mathemagicians.” So I set to searching for some books aimed at my younger daughter, and found several appealing picture books.

A Remainder of One is about a troop of marching ants who keep dividing into columns that leave one ant out. Finally he has a brilliant mathematical revelation, and the 25 ants divide into 5 columns of 5. Voila! It’s a cute book written in rhyme, and it introduces the subject of division with and without remainders.

How will they get to the food the fastest? One line takes forever. Two lines isn’t much better. Not till the littlest ant figures out that ten lines moves the whole group quickly do they really start to make time. This is also written in rhyme and created by the same author-illustrator team.

Amanda Bean counts everything, and she won’t be persuaded that multiplication is faster — not until she has a dream that taxes her counting skills to the limit by giving her too much to count and too little time to count it. Both girls enjoyed this whacky tale.

This book  might work well if you’re doing factorials in math. We weren’t, so Older Daughter, reading it in the back seat on the way home from the library, informed me that it started out as an interesting story and then turned into math. After I read it myself, I decided not to try it with Younger Daughter, but I may read it with Older Daughter again. It starts out developing the idea quite concretely, then becomes a little more abstract.

I had no idea there were so many such books out there; these are just the ones I could get through our library system. They provide some examples and ways of talking about math in a more entertaining format than our math text.

You can click on the button to see what others are reading this week at Read Aloud Thursday, hosted at Hope Is the Word.

Birds, Horses, and Joy


I am reading Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society mentioned it, and I remembered I had a copy. But I can’t seem to gain much traction reading anything these days. I’d rather be outside.

Yesterday was my oldest’s horse lesson. Some of these pics are included (at the moment) in the sidebar slideshow. But here are a few more.

Learning to ride such magnificent creatures is fun. But my youngest seems to feel that it’s equally fun to learn about cats…

…and to gallop joyfully around the finally-dry corrall on two legs rather than four.

I’ve never noticed before this year how much spring and fall resemble one another. But the state of mind is different.

I’ve been snapping photos of birds for my bird log. I’m trying to capture as many of the birds of this place as I can with my camera — the animal-lover’s version of hunting, I reckon. I’ve set up a “Birds” page where I can keep track of them all and share them here. (*Edited to add: I’m rethinking the page, but still going with the photo project.)

Not a great photo, but it shows them sharing a seed beak to beak. Aww...

So there you have it — not much to say. I’m all eyes these days. I often think of writing as an act of worship; returning my words to the living Word. But eyes can worship too. Ann Voskamp says we “pay tribute to God by paying attention.” I am grateful for these sights that nourish my soul. After such a long, leaden, sleeping winter world, the return of color and life seems to be trickling back into my spirit through the camera and the eye.

The Metamorphosis

This strange little novella is a staple of college literature classes. But I didn’t read it till I was studying for my graduate exams. It intrigued me, and for some reason I thought of it again recently and decided to read it again.

It begins this way:

One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in his bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug. He lay on his armour-hard back and saw, as he lifted his head up a little, his brown, arched abdomen divided up into rigid bow-like sections. From this height the blanket, just about ready to slide off completely, could hardly stay in place. His numerous legs, pitifully thin in comparison to the rest of his circumference, flickered helplessly before his eyes.

So that’s the basic situation. How does Gregor handle it? How does his family respond? How does it all turn out? These are the questions raised as the story unfolds.

It’s been “interpreted” psychoanalytically in all kinds of ways. When I finished it, I found I simply wanted to take a step back and think about the broad outlines of the story: Gregor is transformed into something loathsome, is increasingly isolated within the enclosures of his body and his room, and eventually dies. His family responds without any real compassion, dutifully supplying scraps of food but becoming gradually more neglectful. They never understand that it is still Gregor inside the transformed exterior. Last but not least, they are transformed themselves into both more independent people — previously Gregor was the provider for the family — and more bestial, callous people. When he dies, they feel released.

It’s thoroughly depressing. It has a way of getting under the skin because it raises questions about what is bug-like or bestial in modern life — how our humanity may be affected by our values and routines and expectations of one another. Kafka develops the incredible, fantastical tale using a realistic, documentary tone. To me the whole thing reads like a dream where the strangest things can happen, but in our dream selves we don’t question them; we adapt and react and live in the alternative terms of the dream.

Maybe it’s this — Kafka’s creation of an air-tight fictional illusion — that explains why The Metamorphosis is pretty much universally lauded as a masterpiece. But like so many masterpieces, it disturbs, and leaves me with the sense that I see bits and pieces but miss many facets of its meaning. I can’t say as it was enjoyable to read; I’m glad to move on to something else now. But it does send me into this day with a heightened sense of how we treat one another.

Caddie Woodlawn

My copy of the book looks like this.

It took us a long time to read Caddie Woodlawn. But we never lost the thread, and our interest never waned.

I enjoyed this book when I was a child, and I enjoyed revisiting it with my children just as much. Assuming most folks are familiar with the plot of this frontier story about a girl in Wisconsin around the time of the Civil War, I’m going to concentrate on our reactions as we close the book.

First, comparison to Laura Ingalls Wilder is hard to resist. With the girls, I brought up the episode where Laura lures Nellie Olsen into leech-infested waters in On the Banks of Plum Creek, and asked them to compare it to the episode in this book where Caddie and her brothers play a series of practical jokes on their prim cousin Annabelle from Boston — culminating in an egg dropped down her dress. It was interesting to hear their thoughts. Nellie is more unrelentingly mean than Annabelle; Laura never feels sorry, but Caddie is already having pangs of conscience even before the final joke is played; Laura is never disciplined, but Caddie is. (Unfairly — leading down another bunny trail discussion about justice and equality.) On the whole Carol Ryrie Brink’s tale is more rich and instructive.

When I asked the girls whether they liked one book more than the other, one daughter said immediately, “Caddie.” That was startling to me… After all, we’ve had all eight of the Little House books to build affection for Laura, and here comes Caddie, rising to first place in just one book about one year. When asked, my daughter said it was because Caddie has more adventures. I’m not sure that’s an accurate perception, but I do think that Caddie has a more compassionate heart than Laura, who is interested in justice but doesn’t really do anything comparable to what Caddie does when she rides to the Indian camp to warn them away from disgruntled settlers, or uses her silver dollar to buy gifts for little Indian boys whose mother has left, or recognizes that her tattletale little sister is lonely.

I’m not sure where I intended to go with this review when I started… I don’t think I meant to write a comparison between Caddie and Laura, but here I am. Oh well. As long as I’m in this swamp, I’ll mention that I felt this book gives a greater sense of the historical context than the Little House books. You never hear much about any outside events that anchor the Ingalls family in a specific period of history. From the beginning (when the circuit rider leaves his watch to be repaired) to the end (when Dunnville has celebrated the ending of the Civil War and mourned the assassination of the President), Caddie Woodlawn is a world conscious of the passing of time.

1944 ed. illustrated by Kate Seredy. It pictures Caddie and Nero welcoming the circuit rider, whose visits frame the story.

Most basically, the passage of time marked by this book is personal. It’s a coming of age story, and Caddie’s awakening is gentler and kinder than Laura’s in the years between Plum Creek and Silver Lake. Laura’s sister goes blind, her family goes west, and her dog dies, and as she watches Pa drive away Laura comments briefly that she realized at that moment that she’d grown up and had a job to do. Caddie’s family enjoys a comfortable margin, her family opts to stay together in Wisconsin instead of going away to England, and her dog returns (a favorite scene for all three of us!).

The best and most pointed passage to adulthood comes in a conversation between Caddie and her father, when he gives her a vision of the future that inspires her in a time when she desperately needs the encouragement. Speaking of the need for women who can temper the masculine pioneer world with gentleness, he says,

It takes nerve and courage and patience, but good women have those things. They have them just as much as the men who build bridges and carve roads through the wilderness. A woman’s work is something fine and noble to grow up to, and it is just as important as a man’s. But no man could ever do it well. I don’t want you to be the silly, affected person with fine clothes and manners whom folks sometimes call a lady. No, that is not what I want for you, my little girl. I want you to be a woman with a wise and understanding heart, healthy in body and honest in mind…

His words make the difference for Caddie. She wakes feeling like a different person:

Something strange had happened to Caddie in the night. When she awoke she knew that she need not be afraid of growing up. It was not just sewing and weaving and wearing stays. It was something more thrilling than that. It was a responsibility but, as Father spoke of it, it was a beautiful and precious one, and Caddie was ready to go and meet it.