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Monday, October 14, 2013

That's A Possibility, by Bruce Goldstone. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast Books, 2013. $18.99 ages 7 and up

"What will this ant probably do with the leaf? It might eat the leaf. That's a good possibility. It might carry the leaf to its nest. That's a possibility, too. Will the ant cut the leaf into little pieces and throw it around like confetti at a surprise party? That's not possible in real life - it's only a possibility in a story."

Not only is Bruce Goldstone fascinated with math and adept at helping young readers understand math language and concepts, he is a remarkable photographer.

I would call That's A Possibility a companion book to the ones we so enjoyed in 2006, Great Estimations (Holt) and Greater Estimations (Holt, 2008).

In his new book, he takes an idea and makes it fascinating to and easily learned by all. He asks relevant questions about possibility, impossibility, probability, improbability and certainty. Then, he answers his own questions in a way that explains them by using real world situations, each accompanied by a clear, bright photograph sure to help readers grasp what he is trying to teach.

He varies the colors and backgrounds used, he changes fonts, and provides photographs that invite constant, interested discussion. Our attention is refocused each time we turn the page. He starts simply...a mouse at the opening of a maze, a piece of cheese at the other end. Is it possible for the mouse to find the cheese? What do you think? He moves on, giving readers an opportunity to add their own ideas about possibility.

Next is a question about impossibility, or a few of them. When he asks if an elephant can hatch from a small, speckled egg, the answer is evident. As we move forward, the complexity of the question and its answer grows and causes young mathematicians to think more deeply;

"So the odds that the coin will land heads up in 1out of 2 possibilities. (You can also say 50%, because 50 out of 100 is the same as 1 out of 2.) Every time you toss a coin, the odds are the same. It doesn't matter what happened before you tossed the coin."

Using spinners, dice and cards, he ups the understanding with thought-provoking possibilities while always allowing the reader time to think about the question being asked. When Squidgy the Bear is offered ten new shirts and ten pairs of pants, the author wonders how many possible outfits he might wear to school. Once the outfits are determined, how possible is it that he might wear a 'leopard print shirt and purple pants tomorrow'? The probability is pretty limited, given that he has 100 possibilities!

Finally, he explains some things to try at home, offers 'a few more thoughts on what's possible', and provides answers to two of the more difficult problems given. This is a book that will (and should) be read more than once to help young learners cement their understanding of these typically difficult ideas. But, what fun there will be in the learning. If you teach math, this book is a distinct probability.

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