Books, Science/Math

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!

27 thoughts on “PPBG: The Boy Who Loved Math”

  1. Oh you are making me want to do a book order today LOL. I do the same but i have to wait for next week when another friend publishes. I have definitely three to order. Tomato and Pea hasn’t arrived yet and I ordered it ages ago. Love the idea of this math book what a wonderful story.

  2. Thanks for the review on this. I had put it in my Amazon wish list this morning! I like your shipping secret as well.

  3. Kirsten, I like your choice. Since I knew nothing about Paul Erdos, I found his early life story fascinating. Thanks for sharing your Amazon secret. I mostly order from B&N and don’t pay for shipping because of my membership. My husband got a card years ago and I don’t ever remember paying. But, I do order from Amazon occasionally, so that’s good to know.

    1. I think the “Prime” membership gets you all kinds of benefits along with fast, free shipping, like the ability to watch movies and TVs online. So far I’ve resisted. And yes, Paul’s entire life was fascinating. Can you imagine having to butter your friend’s bread because he never learned?

      1. Pat, the text didn’t imply that, but I haven’t read a lot about his life from other sources. I know there is some debate about Einstein and whether he had asperger’s.

    1. Hi Jarm…this is a well-researched true story. Heiligman said she learned of Erdos from her kids initially. Since the story excited her kids, she knew it would make a great picture book.

  4. I have seen this on Fb recently so am so glad you have reviewed it. I do use Amazon occasionally, but for its second-hand deals where I am basically only paying shipping!

  5. Although I am officially the girl who never understood math 🙂 this book looks fascinating! I’m going to have to read this one! Thanks so much for adding a book to the thinly populated math section of our list 🙂

  6. This man sounds astonishing! I’m like Rhythm, math makes my head dizzy. This sort of book might intrigue even math-phobic kids into thinking math can be cool! Thanks for sharing this book with us, Kirsten!

  7. Looks like a great story and so many fun activities. Your shopping system made me giggle. I keep a lot of books in my shopping cart.

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