Author: Deborah Heiligman Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
Age Level: 5-10 years
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
What an interesting biography by Deborah Heiligman and LeUyen Pham! The matter of fact narration about the life of Paul Erdős in The Boy Who Loved Math highlights more than his eccentricities and his genius. Paul’s character enabled him to share his knowledge and bring people together and yet allowed him to lead his life as he wanted to show him as a complete human being. It is this emergence of character that captivates the reader.
Fraulein had too many rules.
That was the problem.
Paul hated rules…
What could Paul do?
What can a child do indeed? When put like that how can young readers not empathize with that little boy?
As much as Paul hated rules he was fascinated by numbers. Knowing how many days for summer vacation (so mama could be with him) gave him comfort while finding out about negative numbers made him curious.
When school proved to be too difficult and conformist for Paul, Fraulein once again stepped into care for him. For a boy who was so advanced in his ability to manipulate numbers, Paul was very much dependent on the adults around him to manage day to day chores. In a matter of fact manner which makes perfect sense to the reader, the author explains how this freed Paul to think more about numbers!
As he learned more, Paul became fascinated by prime numbers. When he grew older, Paul went back to school. This time around he learned to adapt better.
There were others who liked math as much as he did, and the rules were manageable.
As Paul grew into adulthood, he became renowned and yet simple day to day tasks were a challenge. The book is very insightful in explaining to children how someone can enjoy social relationships and yet not want to have the same lifestyle or responsibilities as the others around him. This self-realization and acceptance freed Paul to be himself and others accepted him as he was.
Paul’s friends responded not only to his mathematical genius but also his positive nature. This led to the Erdős number that is still used to indicate research collaboration among mathematicians.
Deborah Heiligman brings out the person behind the genius, with all his quirks and we the readers like him too. This book is a rare find—the writer’s voice and the illustrations both present the complexity of the central character beautifully. Every page is filled with a mathematical concept or operation, and Paul’s fascination with primary numbers gets more coverage in the book. Do take the time to read the appendix from the author and the illustrator to learn more about Paul and the significance of the illustrations.
The Boy Who Loved Math makes math more interesting for children, and it makes it more fun. There is another important lesson embedded in the book that there are many kinds of people in this world, and everyone has something to contribute to society. It reinforces the message that everyone has the right to lead productive lives in his or her fashion.
Here is the author’s page for information on all the awards the book won and other information about Paul:
To learn more about the Erdős Number Project:
Here is a read aloud from Youtube: