The following review of 2020 Mathical Honor Book Count On Me by Miguel Tanco was submitted by Mathical Selection Committee member Betsy Bird.
Let us all step aside for a moment and consider what it means when we say that a book for kids “normalizes math”. We’re not saying that math is ab-normal in any way (obviously not!). Rather, that there is a stigma attached to it. A stigma that a certain strain of highly educated person practically revels in. If you have ever spent a significant amount of time around a group of English majors then you know that periodically they will besmirch the good name of mathematics. They’ll call it dull or boring or useless. Worse, when some of them go on to write books for children, that attitude will seep into the very pages of the titles we hand to youth. What’s the solution? Beautiful, math-friendly, equation-loving picture books. And if we want the mathematicians of tomorrow to find their true calling, there is no better way to go about it than through books like Count On Me by Miguel Tanco.
We are told at the start of the book that, “At home, everyone has a passion.” But while our young narrator’s various family members enjoy art or science or music, none of these are her cup of tea. “There is one thing I really like, though … MATH!” And so it is that through her eyes we see how math is truly everywhere. Patterns in Tanco’s art reveal the geometrical shapes of the playground, the squares on the streets, the circles in her home, and young readers find these shapes right alongside her. She loves curves, fractals, trajectories, and more. There really are kids out there that see the world in mathematical terms. This book, therefore, is invaluable in accepting these kids and celebrating them.
“Consider this book a launch pad, allowing parents and teachers a chance to dip a toe into the wide and wonderful world of math with their kids.”
So often, a parent that fears or dislikes some element of their own childhood will consciously or unconsciously pass along that feeling to their children. We need good books about math to counteract this early math avoidance. Tanco’s has the extra added benefit of using his limited color palette to create truly beautiful art for kids. His young heroine is unapologetic in her passion and that passion bursts off the page. Consider this book a launch pad, allowing parents and teachers a chance to dip a toe into the wide and wonderful world of math with their kids. Who knows? Maybe Count On Me will convince more than just kids to reconsider their mathematical attitudes. Maybe it’ll win over fans of every age. I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s a heckuva fine book.
Count on Me
By Miguel Tanco
Tundra Books, 2019
2020 Mathical Honor Book, Grades K-2
Betsy Bird is the collection development manager of the Evanston (IL) Public Library system, and a reviewer for Kirkus and the New York Times. You can find her at A Fuse #8 Production or on Twitter @FuseEight.