math

Fibonacci in the Garden—Take 3

Fiddlehead Ferns by Joseph D'Agnese

Oh Fiddleheads!

Spotted these Fiddlehead Ferns in the supermarket recently. Such a lovely example of the Fibonacci spiral. These were imported all the way from...Massachusetts. At $8.99 a pound, they are pricey, but oh so tasty with butter!


Nature's Traveling Spiral

Snail in Italy | Image Copyright Denise Kiernan

A great question to ask kids: “What would happen if snails didn’t have spiral-shaped shells?” Remember: Spirals are nature’s way of growing compactly, of keeping a uniform, manageable shape even as the living object continues to grow. If a snail’s shell didn’t coil into a Fibonacci spiral as the snail grew, the little critter would end up dragging something resembling a long, ungainly horn after him, instead of the quite elegant dwelling it possesses!

My wife snapped this little fellow a few years ago while we were living abroad, so he is actually an Italian snail, or “chiocciola.” (Say “KEY-oh-cho-la”).

Interestingly, the Italians use the same word, chiocciola, to describe the typographical symbol at the heart of every e-mail address: @

Can you guess why?



Spirals You Carry With You

Hand Spiral | Joseph D'Agnese

Make a fist. Ta-da! You just made a spiral. That’s right; your fingers curl up into a lovely spiral every time you clench your fist. And you carry two other spirals on either side of your head: your ears!

Fun activity for kids: Take photos of their ears and fists, print them out, and have them use a pencil to trace the spiral shape right on the photo.


Small Is Beautiful

Snail | Image copyright Joseph D'Agnese

This little guy fell out of some herbs we harvested. You can’t tell it from the photo, but he’s less than an inch long. Yet his spiral is so beautifully formed and the close-up photo on the blog shows a perfect set of ridges etched into his shell. Gorgeous! I doubt that his shape conforms to the mathematical requirements of a Fibonacci spiral. But who cares?


Green, Peppery Math

Green pepper | Joseph D'Agnese
Green peppers | Joseph D'Agnese

Dinner the other night called for two green peppers, which revealed Fibonacci numbers upon closer inspection. Notice: Whether you’re looking at them from the top or bottom, you can easily pick out their three- and five-lobed shapes. I have spotted four-lobed peppers, too, but they don’t strike me as being as common as the threes and fives. If I come across one, I’ll be sure to post it.



Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks!



24 Things You Didn't Know About Carl Friedrich Gauss

Gauss Currency via Wikipedia

I don’t talk about this much, but the follow-up to my 2010 book on Fibonacci was supposed to be a picture book biography on the life of the German mathematician, Carl Gauss.

My publisher actually “bought” the book, accepted my manuscript, and paid me the first half of my advance. And then years later, they backed out of the entire deal, claiming the children’s book market had “changed.” Because of that series about the boy wizard, parents were no longer buying their kids “baby books.”

So I was SOL. They allowed me to keep the advance. And I now have a bone to pick with J.K. Rowling the next time we meet.

Years ago, I compiled a handwritten list of notes after reading two serious, grown-up books on the life of Gauss. What did I learn about this brilliant man? Plenty, but it was the odd little things that stayed with me. I made a list of his quirks, likes, and dislikes. Here they are.

• He smoked a pipe.

• He liked wine.

• He often wore a little velvet cap.

• He calculated the date of his own birthday because his mother forgot when he was born.

• He liked songs and kept a list of his favorites in a little notebook.

• Gauss was married and widowed twice. He really loved the first wife; the second, not so much.

• His name is a unit of measure.

• He figured out a way to draw a 17-sided polygon.

• He added all the numbers from 1 to 100 as a kid—maybe.

• His father, who was a mason, was an angry, violent man; perhaps as a result, the adult Gauss hated violence.

• Gauss read newspapers voraciously; students called him "the newspaper tiger" because he pounced on any papers they left unattended. 

• His collected works fill 12 huge volumes.

• He invented one of the first telegraphs used in Germany!

• He died richer than a professor should have because he hoarded pennies like a miser.

• He probably knew the Brothers Grimm.

• He had lovely penmanship.

• He hated teaching, and believed some students robbed him of his time.

• He hated when students took notes in class; he told them to listen instead.

• His portrait used to be on German currency before the coming of the euro.

• He was called the "Prince of Mathematics" in his lifetime; he had no problem with the title.

• He is considered one of the top three mathematicians of all time, along with Archimedes and Newton.

• Two of his sons emigrated to the United States.

• One learned to speak Sioux.

• Another became a millionaire selling shoes in St. Louis.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks!

My Fibonacci book honored with a new math #kidlit award

If you have spent any time as a child or browsed the children's section of a bookstore, you know that there are numerous awards for children's literature. The Newbery. The Caldecott. The Theodor Seuss Geisel. The Coretta Scott King. The Michael L. Printz. The Laura Ingalls Wilder. And on and on. Most are awarded each year during the American Library Association's midwinter conference. Over the years, awards have been created to honor African-American authors and illustrators, Latino/Latina creators, or to pay tribute to books that highlight the LGBT experience.

There has never been an award to specifically celebrate math-themed children's books.* Until now.

Last Friday, April 17, the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) and the Children's Book Council (CBC) announced the first winners of their first annual Mathical Prize for math-themed children's literature. The orgs picked four winners for books published in 2014, and then picked a dozen other "Honor Books" as a way of paying tribute to books that were published in the years 2009-2013, before this new award was established. 

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 9.54.15 AM.png

My children's book, Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci, is one of those Honor Books. Blockhead is a fable about the real-life mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci. It was published by Henry Holt in the spring of 2010. Obviously, I was stunned to get the news. In this business, you don't expect to be singled out for attention five years after the fact. But it is gratifying nonetheless.

Why math book awards? It's no secret that children learn in different ways. Children's books that touch upon math themes can inspire a child in ways that a math textbook, worksheets, or even careful instruction by a devoted teacher will not. Adults forget this, so an award that calls attention to math-themed #kidlit is not a bad way to remind them.

My thanks to these two orgs and their selection committee. My congrats to all the authors and illustrators of the 2014 Mathical Award Winners and the Honor Books.


* To be strictly accurate, in 2012 Bank Street College established the Cook Prize, which annually honors children's picture books that make perfect additions to STEM curricula. (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.) The finalists for the Cook Prize are voted upon by actual kids, who choose the winner.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here.

Blockhead is now a First Book

I got a nice surprise last week. My math picture book, Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci has been accepted into the First Book Program.

First Book is a nonprofit org that helps teachers and schools buy books for kids in need. First Book makes tons of titles available to select schools at astounding discounts of 50 to 90 percent below retail. That’s a huge discount. I was clicking through First Book’s online store and I came across brand-new books by major authors that are going for as little as a buck a book. That price is only available if the teacher or school has been vetted and accepted into the First Book program.

When Blockhead first came out, I used to get emails from teachers, parents, and librarians asking if I could donate a book to a classroom or library, because they just didn’t have the funds to do so.

That’s a hard thing to ask of an author. In the first place most of us just don’t have the money to help schools out in this way. For a while I donated a few, but it wasn’t something I could keep up forever. While I do get a discount from the publisher, every book I mail out costs me darn near retail price by the time I cover the distributor’s sales tax and shipping and my own re-shipping. It just wasn’t smart for me to continue doing that, as much as I want kids to have my book. On top of the cost, authors like me are simply not equipped to assess whether a school or library is truly needy. No matter what I did, I felt guilty.

LaToniya A. Jones loves her kids—with math!

A few years ago, I did a Skype visit with some classes led by LaToniya A. Jones, a former middle school principal and math specialist in Detroit who founded an 501c3 organization called P.O.W.E.R., which, among other things, runs workshops to teach parents how they can empower their kids through math. LaToniya, who uses a bunch of “math-lit” books in her seminars, wrote to First Book, asking that they add Blockhead to their menu of titles.

I’m really touched and glad that she did that. I had heard of First Book, but it would not have occurred to me that I could propose that the org make my book available. When Blockhead finally hits the First Book store, I’ll add the link to my site permanently so teachers and librarians will know that they have options that are cheaper than even the big online retailers. (If you are a children’s book author, you might consider looking into First Book.)

In any case, thanks, First Book. Thanks, Ms. Jones!


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

What you need to know about my book, BLOCKHEAD, about Fibonacci

BLOCKHEAD: THE LIFE OF FIBONACCI  is a charming picture book that is a fictionalized story of the real-life mathematician Leonardo of Pisa. He journeyed to Northern Africa to work in his father’s business more than 800 years ago. He was surprised to learn that the citizens of his new home didn’t use Roman numerals. He traveled the world of the Mediterranean learning all he could about the strange new Hindu-Arabic numerals. Then he wrote books to teach western Europeans how to calculate with them.  The man we now call Fibonacci is largely responsible for converting Europe from I-II-III to 1-2-3. But he’s mostly remembered for a series of numbers known as the Fibonacci Sequence, which describes how many objects thrive and flourish in nature.   PRAISE    “…the clearest explanation to date for younger readers    of the numerical sequence that is found throughout nature and still bears his name.”  —BOOKLIST   “Charming and accessible…” —NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW    *  “The lively text includes touches of humor; Emperor Frederick called him ‘one smart cookie.’ O’Brien’s signature illustrations textured with thin lines re-create a medieval setting.”  —KIRKUS REVIEWS, starred review     “Math lover or not, readers should succumb to the charms of this highly entertaining biography of medieval mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci.”  —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY    BUY    Hardcover:  Indiebound   Amazon   B&N   Powell’s   Teacher Suppliers:  Educators Outlet ,  Reading Warehouse ,  First Book   Autographed:  Malaprop’s   Spellbound

BLOCKHEAD: THE LIFE OF FIBONACCI is a charming picture book that is a fictionalized story of the real-life mathematician Leonardo of Pisa. He journeyed to Northern Africa to work in his father’s business more than 800 years ago. He was surprised to learn that the citizens of his new home didn’t use Roman numerals. He traveled the world of the Mediterranean learning all he could about the strange new Hindu-Arabic numerals. Then he wrote books to teach western Europeans how to calculate with them.

The man we now call Fibonacci is largely responsible for converting Europe from I-II-III to 1-2-3. But he’s mostly remembered for a series of numbers known as the Fibonacci Sequence, which describes how many objects thrive and flourish in nature.

PRAISE

“…the clearest explanation to date for younger readers

of the numerical sequence that is found throughout nature and still bears his name.” —BOOKLIST

“Charming and accessible…”—NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

* “The lively text includes touches of humor; Emperor Frederick called him ‘one smart cookie.’ O’Brien’s signature illustrations textured with thin lines re-create a medieval setting.” —KIRKUS REVIEWS, starred review

“Math lover or not, readers should succumb to the charms of this highly entertaining biography of medieval mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

BUY

Hardcover: Indiebound Amazon B&N Powell’s

Teacher Suppliers: Educators Outlet, Reading Warehouse, First Book

Autographed: Malaprop’s Spellbound