Jon Scieska & Lane Smith – Math Curse and Science Verse

This week I present to you two books that are an interesting mix of nonsense and non-fiction. Math Curse and Science Verse, created by author/illustrator team Jon Scieska and Lane Smith, which, under the pretence of teaching maths and science embark on a fanciful, lyrical voyage into the minds of children as they grapple with concepts that seem to swallow life whole (or is it hole?). The books don’t exactly teach science and maths though there are certainly concepts, terms, numbers and equations in the mix. What they do do is do praise creative and whimsical thinking in combination with maths and science, the combine wordplay with these subjects and show that, with a dash of nonsense and wonder that perhaps… maths can be just a little fun? Afterall, haven’t we all wondered:

How many yards in a neighborhood? How many inches in a pint? How many feet in my shoes?

Both books begin with their respective teachers announcing that everything could be thought of in terms of maths and science, and then the child protagonist’s mind is cursed into viewing everything in terms of one subject or the other.

Now that I’m grown I can see that almost everything comes down to language, maths and science – these three subjects (?concepts, constantly shifting absolutes?) are very much central to everyday life. Ok, I don’t need to do calculus everyday or figure out the elemental structure of objects, but basic maths and sciences creep into life without me even realizing it! When sleeping, walking, cooking, eating, even typing (how fast do I type? how fast does the computer pick up my typing? do I see the words that I type as fast I type them? how fast do I type compared to the slowest typer, the fastest? if I type one thing will it become another type of type? Oh man, these books have cursed me too!). These books poke fun at this simple reality while also satirizing the way that these two subjects are portrayed in school – they don’t need to be concrete and difficult walls to conquer – why not have a bit of fun with them? People who like language can most certainly enjoy maths and sciences too, and vice versa.

Perhaps the one potential negative to these books could be the satirical way that teachers are portrayed (particularly in Science Verse) as boring or dull in the way that they present these (obviously exciting!) subjects. As always there is an edge to Scieska and Lane’s work and the criticism of the education system and/or educators is it. Still, there are plenty of examples of great lesson plans out there on the internets that use these books and I think that when paired with an adult voice, be it aparents or an English, Maths or Science teacher, encouraging kids to think like the protagonists in the books – to get out of that box and jump into the literal – the lesson can be quite valuable. Subjects are taught as separate entities from one another, but life isn’t that simple, these subject interconnect all the time. Breaking down the barriers between subjects may introduce a concept even more important than even blueberry pi.