September 2, 2007

Mitsumasa Anno - Picture Books that Teach Math

We recently found a few really delightful children's books by Mitsumasa Anno. He is (was?) a Japanese math teacher turned author of children's books. The ones we read were Anno's Magic Seeds, Anno's Counting House, and Anno's USA. I love studying and teaching other disciplines through literature, which is part of what draws me to Anno's books.

Anno's Magic Seeds is about a wizard who gives a young man named Jack two seeds and tells him to eat one and plant the other. He promises that Jack won't be hungry for a whole year and that the seed in the ground will produce two more seeds the next year so he can repeat the process. Jack obeys and the wizard's words come to pass. For a few years Jack continues eating one seed and planting the other but one year he decides to plant both seeds. That's when the fun begins as the seeds begin multiplying geometrically. Jack eventually has so many seeds that he starts selling some. He plants more and more each year and always eats one each year. It is the reader's job to figure out how many seeds were planted, harvested, etc. Other complications arise when Jack marries and has a baby. Of course his wife and child eat some seeds also. All goes well until the hurricane. Jack, thankful that his family is spared, begins anew with just a few seeds.

The book, besides being a fun, beautifully illustrated story and a challenging math puzzle, teaches about risk, compound interest, the importance of diversification and the fact that good things, especially family, mustn't be taken for granted.

Anno's Counting House is a wordless book about people moving from one house to another. The old house gradually empties and the new house gradually fills with the people and their furniture. The reader (or readee) needs to predict and count who and what moves from one house to the other at each stage in the story. Attention to detail is important.

Anno's USA is one of a series of journey books. Wikipedia describes them better than I could:
In the "Journey" books, a tiny character travels through a nation's landscape, densely populated with pictures referencing that country's art, literature, culture, and history. Anno's illustrations are often in pen and ink and watercolor, and occasionally incorporate collage and woodcuts. They are intricately detailed, showing a sense of humor as well as an interest in science, mathematics, and foreign cultures. They frequently incorporate subtle jokes and references.
There are three pages of Anno's work on amazon.

An interesting web site with math lessons based on literature (including some of Anno's books) for grades K-8 is called SMaRT Books. Check it out and if you have any other reading recommendations, please share in the comments.

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