Committee Picks: A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars (Review)

Posted by on Apr 2, 2018 in Featured Titles, News | No Comments

The following review of 2018 Mathical Award Winner A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by author Seth Fishman was submitted by Mathical Selection Committee member Jeanne Petarra-Weeks.

Jeanne Petarra-Weeks

In children’s vocabulary, numbers are primarily associated with personal experience denoting quantities or measurements. For example, how many kids in my homeroom, how many are ahead of me in the cafeteria line; a quantity indicator. Or, how long will it take for me to finish my homework assignment, how far is it from my house to grandma’s house; a measurement indicator. Consequently, most of our younger children have a limited number horizon, mainly confined to an upper limit in the hundreds or possibly as much as thousands.

That is, until they encounter page one of Seth Fishman’s brief treatise on the magnitude of really, really huge numbers entitled A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars. He figuratively (pun intended) blows the lid off any child’s mind by citing numerous large number examples such as the weight of the 10 quadrillion world’s ant population; or the weight of planet Earth in pounds as 13 followed by 24 zeros. What child would not be fascinated by learning the number of gallons of water contained in the oceans or by knowing the total number of stars in the night sky? Literally, minds will be expanded through exposure and discussion of the numerical concepts contained within this beautifully illustrated book.

Throughout the book the author stresses the flexible nature of numbers. A count at one moment in time may be different than the same count at a different time due to changing circumstances. Likewise, he introduces the concept of approximation in establishing the count of things that are difficult to enumerate precisely. Children reading this book will be reassured to think of themselves as the number “1”. They are encouraged to regard themselves as uniquely separate from the myriad of numbers large and small descriptive of the world in which we live. Interestingly, the author slips in a science side topic with the cryptic comment “a dip in space… is a force called gravity”. The exceptional reader will recognize this as a reference to our modern understanding of gravitational attraction. The Newtonian concept of gravitational “force” has been replaced by Einstein’s “warpage of the time-space continuum.” Although it was a point made in passing only, and not central to the overall theme, it nevertheless might present a simulative topic for extended discussion.

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars
By Seth Fishman, illustrated by Isabel Greenberg
HarperCollins, 2017
2018 Mathical Award Winner, Grades 3-5


Mathical Selection Committee member Jeanne Petarra-Weeks is a K-3 Math & Literacy Specialist in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.