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Friday, April 6, 2012

Edgar Allan Poe's Pie, written by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Michael Slack. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen. 2012. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"The fifteen-inch square pizza
with the three-by-three inch slices
was so inviting

I couldn't resist
eating nineteen and a half of them

Forgive me, Flossie
you were hungry, too
I put the box back
in the refrigerator

Who says that kids who love math don't love poetry? If they don't, you can change that in one look at this funny and inventive new book by Children's Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis. He takes classic poems as his starting point and makes them whimsical and mathematical with twists on the text. What fun it is!

The above shared poem ends with this final stanza:

"beside the white chickens
how many pieces
of pizza were left?"

The problem posed is not too difficult, and it won't take much encouragement for readers to do the figuring out. Do you have a guess?

Each of the math puzzlers is presented in a poem that is classic. It may, or may not, be familiar to those who choose to share this book. Hopefully, it will lead them to find the original poem, to check out what the poet has done to change it to suit his purpose, and to do the math required to solve the problem posed.

Fourteen poets are highlighted and some of their most familiar work used to our poet's purpose. Each has a problem to solve, and that solution ranges from fairly simple to more complex. Some require a series of steps on the way to the solution. Luckily, for those of us not mathematically inclined, the answers are upside-down at the bottom of each page. It takes some number acuity to find a number of them, and math whiz kids will appreciate that.

As well, the author includes in backmatter a short summary of each poet's life and work. This definitely ups the appeal and the range of interest for those sharing this much appreciated addition to the brilliant depth of J. Patrick Lewis' body of work.

Some of my favorite poets are here. Here is what John Ciardi's poem 'About the Teeth of Sharks' inspired for the prolific and wonderful author:

"The thing about a shark is - teeth,
Said shark expert my brother Keith.

To study sharks, he happily
Set sail to greet them out at sea.

Keith counted the first pointed row -
Eight hundred twelve! Four rows to go.

If each one of those had half as many.
How many teeth would equal plenty?

Before Keith finished adding, he
Was swallowed by shark dentistry."

Add to such delight the digital artwork created by Michael Slack and you have a funny, poetic source of math problems to tease and tantalize your children, or your students in the days to come.

And just before I go, did you solve the two problems posed?

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