On Nonfiction Monday, bloggers across the kidlitosphere write about nonfiction books for kids. Despite all the nonfiction I read, I am only an occasional contributor, mostly due to me often forgetting what day it is. Monday really creeps up on you sometimes, doesn't it? Today, the exceptional kidlit blog The Miss Rumphius Effect is hosting, with links to all of this week's nonfiction posts.
Let us now praise Danica McKellar. Nonfiction Monday, prepare to eat her math.
Would you, have you, responded with knee-jerk distaste to a pretty girl, a TV star, protesting loudly that "Math Doesn't Suck"? (especially when her book with that title is subtitled "How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail"?) Do you find the magazine-style covers of the pretty girl's books, promising personality quizzes, and "boy-crazy confessionals" along with word problems and polynomials, patronizing and/or pandering?
Well, you might. You might. But don't.
Because dang-frabbit, we pick up those types of magazines for a reason - they are fun to read. And Danica McKellar's math books are fun to read. Tips and shortcuts are signaled by wee little fashion-y sketches of girls. Solving for x is compared to wrapping and unwrapping a gift. Typefaces and text adornments proliferate, and are unrelievedly swirly.
But and also. Danica McKellar's books are suffused with a remarkable candor and unapologetic ambition. There are stock market problems right alongside 'how many green beads do I need to make this bracelet' questions. There are testimonials from women who have used math smarts to become successful in their chosen fields.
On the one hand: "I like to think of the inside of the absolute value bars as a nice relaxing place like a luxury spa, because when a number comes out, it's so happy and positive!" On the other hand: "Being a savvy investor with your hard-earned money is a real benefit of understanding algebra, and it's making you a more powerful young woman, right now."
And on the third hand (this is a post about a math book, not an anatomy book, so shut up), Danica's first book, published in 2007, has circulated an average of 16 times per copy in the 3 years it's been in my library system. And that's a book buried in the 510s, far from the children's section, or even the YA shelves. (I used math - or, as my hairsplitting father would insist, arithmetic - to arrive at that knowledge.)
Finally, I enjoy her voice. "We've all seen those reality shows where people compete to get their dream job... that is, if they don't get eliminated or 'fired' right there on the spot. Yikes! I don't know, man. Those shows seem really cruel to me." That sounds JUST like my niece Althea, a PhD candidate in marine science and frequent math user. And this comment about The Apprentice, believe it or not, leads to a discussion of negative and zero exponents. Zero exponents. Who knew zero could be an exponent? Not me, not until I read this chapter. And that's really what counts (forgive the pun). Does Danica McKellar explain mathematical concepts and practical problem-solving strategies clearly, without unnecessary repetition, and without the reader becoming short of breath and needing a cool cloth to the forehead?
And that's a yes. I am Team Winnie.