The numbers behind the math


Book review, from Tokyo – Like math? I do. I’d gladly spend my afternoon proving a math truth to someone interested (if I remember how), and I actually enjoy the mental workout from making those functions work for me in Excel. Well, imagine the joy I found reading Taro Gomi’s 『さんすうくんがやってくる』(Sansuukun ga yattekuru, lit. Here comes “math boy”).

A kid who simply lives and breathes math, Sansuukun spews out numbers at every chance – counting friends at the park, dividing up the strawberries for everyone, analyzing the performance of the little league team and their odds of winning the title, it all comes so naturally.

When his friends show any hint of interest, or even when they don’t, Sansuukun rattles on – area, volume, energy, units of time, temperature, even energy. The calculations get more and more complex, but the kid sure knows how to show that math pervades many parts of our lives.

Sansuukun is cool, but not really much fun. Counting at the park isn’t quite like playing together, besides Sansuukun gobbled up the remainder of the strawberries after dividing them up equally for his friends.

Other than being mostly neutral (except when it comes to his favorite things, like strawberries), he gushes math wisdoms. For instance, he reminds us that a score on a test is merely a number derived from marking someone’s answers to the test, and it does not actually indicate how intelligent that person might be. What clarity of thought – super cool kid (especially if you didn’t score well on that test)!

He also shares how the clarity of numbers can sometimes mislead – a tiny frog and an elephant can both be counted as one animal despite their obvious differences. And of course, he readily admits that there’s no way he could count all the stars in the entire universe, even if he could come up with a pretty far out estimate. Nice and clear, not unlike math.

A picture book for three to five year-olds littered with numbers, this fun, inquisitive look at a cool but weird kid who just sticks to his math, shows us how we use numbers to create numerical representations of our myriad observations. As numerical fact derived using specific methods, on their own, they possess neither positive nor negative nuances. The more complicated the calculation, the less apparent is the clarity. Numbers gain meaning with analysis and our perceptions. Like how our brains seek patterns, we use numbers to help us make some sense of our lives.

So let’s not get too carried away or bothered by those sometimes arbitrary values, and as Sansuukun’s friends would say, let’s remember to have some fun together while we’re here!

 

Title: さんすうくんがやってくる (Sansuukun ga yattekuru, lit. Here comes “math boy”) by Taro Gomi
Publisher: Gakken Plus, 2006

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