Saturday, January 5, 2008


AJ's interest in pi has not waned. After several years of obsession with space, which he still likes reading about, he seems to be transferring his obsession to math. The remainder of this post also appears at Spynotes.

Scene: Harriet's car. AJ and Harriet are driving home from an early morning yoga class (Harriet was taking; AJ was hanging out playing video games). They are listening to Car Talk.

Radio caller: I have four kids ages 10, 9, 8 and 6.

Radio host: Four kids! Holy cow. You need Prozac!

AJ: That's funny. Four kids.

Harriet: That's a lot of kids.

AJ: It's funny because there are 4 of them and the youngest one is 6. And 6+ 4 is 10, which is the age of the oldest one.

Harriet: You're right. That is funny.

This scene is brought to you courtesy of one of AJ's Christmas presents, The Number Devil by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, which has AJ thinking about numbers day and night, backwards and forwards, right side up and upside down. He's figuring out his own number tricks and learning some of the oldest ones there are. This is one exciting book, perfectly pitched for AJ right now. The topics are explained exceptionally clearly without at all talking down to children (except, perhaps for a certain amount of sillification of terminology: for example, roots are called "rutabagas" and factorial is called "vroom" because of how fast it gets a number to grow huge; traditional terms, however, are listed in the back of the book). The novel that frames the mathematical concepts and the pictures are both engaging. AJ is on fire with excitement about math right now, so much so that I'm wondering how he can possibly go back to counting at school on Monday. I may be sending a copy of this book to his teacher.

AJ got a lot of books for Christmas: G is for Googol (which we've had out of the library approximately googol times, so I made sure he got his own copy), Stuart Little, a book about Abraham Lincoln, a book about Global Warming, and the first in the Charlie Bone series. But The Number Devil is the one we've been reading over and over again. I purchased it on a whim when I felt funny about buying him G is for Googol, because he's already read it so many times. The Number Devil came up in the "you might also like" of the order page. I took a chance and I'm glad I did.

The Number Devil has had AJ calculating square roots at bedtime, building pyramids out of breakfast cereal, creating his own magic triangles, experimenting with factorials and exponents, and drawing pictures using the Fibonacci series. This is one exciting book. It's particularly fabulous to see AJ at work with some graph paper and cereal and a calculator while wearing AJ's favorite item of clothing from his Christmas haul -- a pi baseball shirt sent to him by the lovely Lass. This shirt, which he has owned for less than two weeks, has already been washed five times and showed off to all of AJ's friends, along with the medal he won in a basketball tournament.

Apparently, this year math is the new science.

But AJ hasn't left the world of science experiments behind entirely. His school's science fair is coming up in a little over a month and he's currently pondering some kind of gravity-related project. Or maybe we'll throw hot dogs at pi to see what happens.

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