The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heligman & LeUyen Pham

Here’s another book for our celebration of “March MATHness.” It’s a look at a person’s life and how numbers were the most important thing to him. Counting was one of the things he loved best. Maybe you do too…

Paul Erdos was born in March in the year 1913, so more than 100 years ago. When he was little, he and his mother lived in Hungary, in a place called Budapest. When he was 3 his mother had to go back to work. She was a math teacher and her students needed her, so Paul spent his days with a nanny. It wasn’t easy for either of them, because Paul didn’t like to follow any rules, and his nanny thought that he should. (Has this ever happened to you? Yep, me too. Sometimes I hate rules.)

So his nanny came up with an idea to distract Paul, he was to count down the days till summer vacation when his mom would be home with him every day. He found that he liked knowing the answer to this problem. That started a love of numbers as answers to other things.

When he was 4 years old, Paul could ask someone on what day they were born and what time. Then he could figure out how many seconds that person had been alive. Isn’t that amazing? I’d have a hard time being able to do that now, and I’m much older than 4.

Just like the girl in Count on Me, Paul sees numbers everywhere. He and his mother talked about negative numbers and prime numbers. He also liked to stand on top of towers and mountains, because from there he could see the world below and know that there were problems just waiting to be solved with math.

Something else the book does is show us some of the other parts of Paul’s life. As a child he does not like rules, and as he gets older he discovers it hard to be in one place for any amount of time and travels to lots of different places. For the longest time Paul lived with his mom—she did his laundry and cooked for him. When he got older, he had to learn how to do those things for himself. But it wasn’t easy, because his brain kept wanting to think about math.

And this is why I wanted us to look at this book today, Paul was a person who loved math more than anything. It became his whole life. People loved and admired him for it.

There are many many reasons for reading a book, here are a few I want you to think about.

Sometimes books are mirrors. That means whatever you see in the book is a reflection of yourself. So maybe in this case you are absolutely in love with math too.

Sometimes books are windows, and that means you are looking into someone else’s life and learning what it’s like for that person. So maybe you don’t love math but you are learning about someone who does.

And sometimes books are sliding glass doors, meaning you can see what’s going on, and you want to open the door and step on through. You want to be part of the story.

Maybe after you read this book you’ll want to learn about prime numbers and negative numbers. (How can something actually be LESS than zero??) I would be thrilled to know that something you read about in a book gets you all sparked up and excited to learn more.

For me, I love reading this book to see how Paul goes from toddler, to teen, to adult. And that math is what he loves more than anything. Because of it he makes friends all over the world. He inspires others and tries to lend support whenever he can. He even has money set aside for people who try and solve certain unsolvable problems

I also love that Deborah Heligman (the author) and LeUyen Pham (the illustrator) have a space in the back of the book dedicated to their research in creating it. The people they talked to, and the things they kept in mind as they put together this story, accompanied by these images. There are also a few pages in the back that show more about the problems Paul tried to solve. Looking at this part of he book might make you more curious. The best books ignite something inside you: you either learn something new or it opens up a new path of discovery.

Maybe you like numbers or maybe you despise the, but isn’t it good to know that some people love them. And that there’s room for all of us.

Your challenge today is to think about a high space, like a tall building or maybe a very high hill. Can you go there soon, or do you need to imagine it? What could you see spread out below you? How can numbers help you describe it?

Also, how many days till spring? It’s getting close, right? I believe I saw that there are 108 days till summer. That feels like a beautiful number. It’s like a 1 and an infinity sign, separated by a beautiful circle.

Speaking of numbers, my favorite is 22. I’m not sure why, it’s just always been special to me. Do you have a favorite? How about the other members of your family, what numbers matter the most to them? Also, how many seconds have you been alive? I bet Paul could figure that out lickety-split. Feel free to answer any of these in the comments, I’d love to know.

Come back next week for another exciting adventure.

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