The Boy Who Loved MathBy Deborah Heligman (Author), LeUyen Pham (Illustrator)
The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos
This is a picture book biography of the famous mathematician Paul Erdos. Heligman/Pham explore Erdos’ life and work around Math.
Paul Erdos was only four when he realized that he loved numbers. Paul played with numbers in his head almost all the time. As a child he would add them and subtract them. Once he subtracted a rather large number from a smaller number and realized that the answer was a negative number. And Paul thought that was super cool!
As a child Paul did not work well with rules. There were rules with his nanny and rules at school. Soon enough Paul’s mama realized that school was not the best fit for him. So she decided to stay home and coach him, along with a little help from the nanny.
And while Paul “played” and learned his numbers at home, his mother and nanny cut his meat, buttered his toast and got him dressed. This was perfect! Now Paul could think of numbers all day long!
Paul loved numbers! Most of all he loved Prime Numbers. They fascinated him. He worked on them for a long time. Soon Paul had to go to high school. And this time, he really liked it there. He found that he made many friends, people who loved numbers just as much as he did. And by the time he was 20, Paul became very famous for his skills and knowledge in math.
So Paul travelled the world. He showed other famous mathematicians what he knew about numbers. He solved many difficult problems and taught many new things. And while the famous Math Magician could do some very difficult math, he still needed his toast buttered, his meat cut and his laundry done!
The Boy who Loved Math is an excellent picture book biography. It is probably THE perfect picture book biography that I have read in a long time. Here is why:
Heligman draws the character of Paul Erdos in his full brilliance and eccentricity. While she describes him to be a genius, she does not hide the fact that Erdos had difficulty in doing simple things in life. At the same time, she helps guide the reader to how he survived and thrived despite his little shortcomings.
In doing so, Heligman sends a powerful message to young readers. That is ok to be different.
This book is also about Paul Erdos’ math. Through brilliant and well researched illustration work, Heligman and Pham demonstrate that Math can be fun and exciting. The picture book is filled with illustrations of numbers and games, sequences and puzzles. The end notes include a detailed description page by page of what Math nuggets one can “find” on each of the pages.
Finally, this book is a celebrations of a life which was complex and difficult to explain. Heligman and Pham worked as a team to create this wonderful memoir. Their big win was take Paul Erdos’ life and make it approachable and understood for the youngest of readers!
An achievement indeed!