Author: Kyle Evans
Illustrator: Hana Ayoob
Publisher: Explaining Science Publishing
Details: 42 pages; £5.99
ISBN: 978 0995475076
It’s summer 2006. I’m exhausted, and I’m smiling tightly. I’m reading to my daughter – one of those bright, rhyming books. One I’ve read so many times the words are surely ingrained, flaming, on my soul, like something from a JK Rowling novel.
A little face looks at me. I’m so, so tired, and this book is grating on me. I wish it weren’t so inane. I wish the words that ring in my skull weren’t so mundane and saccharine and idiotic and pointless. I don’t care about Floppy Woppy’s Toppy Hat, or Sukie’s brother Pukey, or little Birdie flap-flap with her beakie going tap-tap (that’s woodpeckers, and she’s obviously a chaffinch, morons). And I’m so tired.
It’s summer 2019. That screaming, sleep-destroying infant is a teenager. And she wants to review this book with me. We smile over the singsong pages, remembering a childhood filled with the tension of normal, sweet, baby things and the eye-rolling boredom of the bullshit that made me long to subvert their cloying narrative.
Everything that’s for children always seemed to me to be full of simplistic rubbish I knew I’d have to re-explain later. “And then I always felt like you’d lied to me,” my daughter says. Now, we can re-examine the bullshit together. Her eye-rolls are legendary.
Here Come the Numbers, by maths teacher, maths communicator and musical comedian Kyle Evans, is sweet, but not saccharine. It is rhyming, but still meaningful. In it, I recognise the tiny, beautiful seeds of the mathematics I know and love, not the empty fetishising of counting and repetition that seems to fill the days of every caregiver of young children. I recognise with relief there’s nothing that I would have to fudge or go back to adjust later.
Having a child move through pre-teen to teenage reminds you that the world is not strictly delineated into “childish” and “grown-up”, but requires a complex interweaving on multiple levels, so people can transition, oscillate and code-switch between them.
Here Come The Numbers is a children’s book that adults can learn from too. Like The Simpsons, it’s full of sophisticated ideas wrapped in a child-friendly package. (The notes and explanations in the back are a particularly nice touch.)
And, like my relationship with my daughter, this book is in some ways evolved and sophisticated, but not yet adult. We see the parade of cartooned numbers through the eyes of a child, but with the guidance of an expert mathematician to explain some of their curiosities and stimulate our wonder. Also, like my relationship with my daughter, it is beautifully simple: evidently crafted with love and humour.
She says: "I remember, when I was younger, Mum reading colourful, fun rhyming books to me. I’m not a baby any more, but I liked the ideas in this book and some of them I hadn’t seen shown in this way before. It made maths feels light and interesting, not intimidating.
"This book not only teaches children maths, it teaches them in a very simple and imaginative way, and that’s powerful."
For the parent or teacher who feels the dread of maths anxiety, an accessible little pocket-sized book like this, with detailed but not too technical footnotes to help explain the mathematics, could well be a game-changer.
More sophisticated mathematicians could sneer at the simple language and rhyme, the cheery numbers and the funny captions – but early-years maths matters. And books like this, directed at early years but well-crafted for all ages, are a rarity.
Despite a couple of small issues – the production quality isn’t the best, and at least one of the rhymes is fairly way-off – if you were going to have to recite one heartfelt favourite, night in, night out, you could do a lot worse than this one. It’s real maths – almost all the seeds of the first years of the curriculum – with delightful illustrations, and without taking itself too seriously or trying to be something it’s not.
Lucy Rycroft-Smith produces the Mathmatips podcast for Tes
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