PPBG: The Boy Who Loved Math


Before I introduce one of my favorite biographies of the year, I am going to let you in on a dirty little secret. I order from Amazon A LOT. But I refuse to buy a prime membership since I can normally make the $25 threshold for Super Saver Shipping.

But here’s what I do if I can’t…I order a book, specifically a children’s picture book. I keep a whole bunch of them in my cart or on my wish list. If I’m a few dollars short of earning free shipping, I add a book to the order. Paying for shipping is a waste of money when you could get a book as part of the deal. That’s how I got my latest picture book:

TITLE: The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos

AUTHOR: Deborah Heiligman


PUBLICATION INFO: Roaring Book Press, 2013

ISBN: 978-1596433076

SOURCE:  Personal collection (yippeeee!)

INTENDED AUDIENCE: ages 6 and up

GENRE: nonfiction, biography


“There once was a boy who loved math. He grew up to be 1 of the greatest mathematicians who ever lived. And it all started with a big problem…”

From the publisher: “Most people think of mathematicians as solitary, working away in isolation. And, it’s true, many of them do. But Paul Erdos never followed the usual path. At the age of four, he could ask you when you were born and then calculate the number of seconds you had been alive in his head. But he didn’t learn to butter his own bread until he turned twenty. Instead, he traveled around the world, from one mathematician to the next, collaborating on an astonishing number of publications. With a simple, lyrical text and richly layered illustrations, this is a beautiful introduction to the world of math and a fascinating look at the unique character traits that made “Uncle Paul” a great man.”

THEMES/TOPICS: biography, math

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Where to start…for writers, this is another mentor text. Heiligman’s first 50 words are spot on. They show a tight focus and capture her voice and style. The opening also hints at the format she uses throughout the book — the integration of numbers and math terms into the text. On this point, the book reminded me of Jeri Chase Ferris’s Noah Webster and His Words, though Ferris used dictionary-type entries.

Pham’s art has a carefree and childlike quality — just like Paul himself. Pham also has included extensive illustrators’ notes to explain many of the equations and famous mathematicians in the text. The note runs three pages, showing the depth of research on the illustration side.

Finally, kids like this book. Paul is such an unusual character. He retains a childlike quality throughout his life. It could be his curiosity or the fact that he couldn’t cut his own meat. Either way, children can relate to Paul. Cooper (age 6) gives this book two thumbs up.


I really feel like I’m cheating here since Heiligman provides so many resources on her Web site:

In terms of activities, if your child is old enough, explore prime and negative numbers. Using a number line is especially helpful for negative numbers. When talking about negative numbers using a word problem is most helpful. Borrowing money from mom and dad to buy LEGOs can result in a negative number, for example. When you owe, you are in the negative.

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I found something I need to buy on Amazon for $13. And I’ll add a book to the order.

Ooops. I almost forgot to tell you that you’ll find way more cool books at Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Perfect Picture Books.” Every Friday folks review a host of new books. Join us!


PPBF: Miracle Mud

TITLE: Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud That Changed Baseball

AUTHOR: David A. Kelly

ILLUSTRATOR: Oliver Dominguez

PUBLICATION INFO: Millbrook, 2013

ISBN: 13: 978-0-7613-8092-4

SOURCE:  library


GENRE: nonfiction, history


“Lena Blackburne wanted to be a famous baseball player. But instead, he discovered mud. Baseball mud. His special, secret mud changed the game of baseball.”

Kelly’s killer opening perfectly sums up the whole book. But if that’s not enough, here’s the publisher’s summary:

“Lena Blackburne loved baseball. He watched it, he played it, he coached it. But he didn’t love the ways players broke in new baseballs. Tired of soggy, blackened, stinky baseballs, he found a better way. Thanks to a well-timed fishing trip and a top-secret mud recipe, Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud was born. For seventy-five years, baseball teams have used Lena’s magic mud to prepare baseballs before every game. Read the story of how Lena’s mud went from a riverbank to the major leagues and all the way to the Hall of Fame.”

THEMES/TOPICS: history, sports

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: I heard a lot of chatter about this book when it first came out and have been looking forward to reading it. This book has all the elements that make for great nonfiction. First, it’s got a strong hook. This is the kind of story you hope to stumble upon as a writer, because you just know it’s going to sell. Second, it’s well written. Kelly’s opening is worth studying. In the first 25 words, he sets up the entire story. You know exactly what this book is going to be about. Kelly includes an informative author’s note. My only critique is that I would have liked an abbreviated bibliography to see the depth of his research.


  • One of my all-time favorite museums, San Fran’s Exploratorium, has a great site dedicated to the Science of Baseball. It’s chock full of stories and experiments.
  • Read about the science of baseball at ScienceNews for Students.
  • It’s a bit late in the season, but take in a minor league baseball game sometime. Interview the players. How do they break in new baseballs?
  • Better yet, visit the Baseball Hall of Fame and see the Miracle Mud on display.

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

PPBF: Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library

TITLE: Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library

AUTHOR: Barb Rosenstock


PUBLICATION INFO: Calkins Creek, Sept. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59078-932-2

SOURCE:  personal collection

INTENDED AUDIENCE: ages 8 and up

GENRE: nonfiction


“Thomas Jefferson learned to read. And then, he never stopped.”

From the Publisher’s Web site: Thomas Jefferson loved books, reading, and libraries, and he started accumulating books as a young man. This original and lyrical picture-book biography tells the story of how Jefferson’s vast book collections helped to create the world’s largest library, the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Filled with excerpts from primary documents, including Jefferson’s thoughts on books, reading, and learning, this title also features John O’Brien’s whimsical and detailed illustrations. Rosenstock and O’Brien worked closely with experts to ensure the text and images are accurate. The book concludes with an author’s note, bibliography, and source notes.


WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Oh, where to start. I’m a big fan of both Thomas Jefferson and Barb Rosenstock. I attended Mr. Jefferson’s University (University of Virginia) and worked as an intern in Monticello’s research department. I adore Barb Rosenstock’s slice-of-life histories. She doesn’t try to tell Jefferson’s whole life story. Instead, she focuses on one particular aspect of his character — his passion for books — and uses that to illuminate a piece of history. And it’s clear that she has researched her topic thoroughly. I am using this book as a mentor text for a manuscript I’m working on.


  • Rosenstock has a teacher’s guide on her Web site. There are lots of fun activities and questions aligned with the Common Core.
  • Visit your school or local library. How are the books organized? What kind of books do you find?
  • Write your own book. I’ve blogged about book writing for young children previously. I find Joyful Learning in KC to be one of the best blogs around for teaching writing to very young children.
  • Take an online tour of the Library of Congress. I took an in-person tour years ago, and it is so lovely.

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.