Marshmallow recently got her paws on Logicomix, a graphic novel telling of the first two-thirds of philosopher-mathematician Bertrand Russell‘s life, as it is intertwined with the story of the stormy events related to the philosophical foundations of mathematics that occurred in the early twentieth century. The book is most likely not intended for young readers, but Marshmallow found it interesting and wanted to review it for the book bunnies blog. Below is her conversation with Sprinkles about this book, written by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou, and illustrated by Alecos Papadatos and Annie di Donna.
Sprinkles: So Marshmallow, tell us a little about this book.
Marshmallow: The first thing I want to say is that this is not a children’s book. It’s not necessarily inappropriate for children, but some concepts might be confusing for young bunnies.
S: Why did you read it?
M: It looked interesting. It is a graphic novel and I like those.
S: I see. So tell us what it is about.
M: It’s about Bertrand Russell. He is a philosopher. Basically it is about his life.
S: And the book has a really intriguing subtitle: “An Epic Search for Truth”. How is that related to Russell?
M: I think it’s because he spent a lot of time thinking about what truth means, the true meaning of “true”.
S: Yes, Russell is a foundational figure for modern mathematical logic today. I find his story fascinating and I really liked this book myself when I read it. So what else do you want to tell us?
M: There are parts of the book where the two authors, the illustrators, and a researcher who is helping them with the project are talking among themselves. And there are the other parts where we basically follow Bertrand Russell give a speech about his life and his work in logic. The speech is supposed to be about “the role of logic in human affairs” and apparently Russell did not give any such speech.
S: But it probably makes a good plot device to tell us about his life, I guess.
M: Yes, I think it works.
S: So did you know about Bertrand Russell before reading this book?
S: What do you think about him now, after having read it?
M: I think he is an interesting person. But according to this book review you showed me, not everything in the book is accurate.
S: Yes, I think the authors themselves say they took some artistic license with some of the facts. And that book review is a careful scholarly overview of the book that readers who might be curious about the accuracy of the text might check out. But let us get back to your reading of the book. What appealed to you most about this book?
M: Well, I liked the switch between the creators of the book and the subject of the book. It made things interesting. I also did not know about Russell and Wittgenstein and Gödel, and any of those philosophers, so I learned a lot.
S: And the book does cover a lot of ground in terms of the foundational debates of the early twentieth century. How did all that work out for you?
M: What do you mean by foundational debates?
S: I mean, the questions about the foundations of mathematics, of logic, of truth. How these folks were trying to understand why mathematics was true, how it worked, and so on.
M: I think some of that went over my head. But I did find it cool that people were thinking so hard about why math is true.
S: I know you find philosophical questions intriguing. The ones in this book are quite specific to math, it seems at first, but then if you think about it, we all want to know what is true, what makes something true, as opposed to false, fake news, or disinformation, or misinformation.
S: Yes, I really liked your project! So we know it is sometimes hard to know what is true and what is not. And this book is about some philosophers who are trying to think about these questions very carefully and trying to see how to connect them to math.
M: Yes, I think that makes sense.
S: So I know you were not looking for philosophy or math when you started. Did all that overwhelm you when you were reading it?
M: No. I think they explained things in ways people could understand. I guess some things are a bit confusing, and I probably did miss some things, and maybe younger bunnies might not get any of the philosophical stuff, but it was interesting for me.
S: That’s great Marshmallow! And maybe you will come back to this book in a few years’ time if you are curious to dig deeper into the philosophical questions in it. I’m glad you read it!
M: Me too.
S: So as we wrap up this review, I’ll ask how you rate the book…
M: I rate this book 95%.
S: Sounds good! I know you always like to end our chats the way Caramel ends his reviews. So go ahead!
C: I did not know that! That is so strange. I learn something new every day!
S: Tell me more about the book.
C: If you like biographies, you would probably like this book. It is about a young person doing some really big and important things. Like inventing an entirely new alphabet! And he was also blind!
S: Yes, but maybe being blind, he knew what would help him better than seeing people who assumed that everybody should use the same alphabet. In the book we learn that Louis as a student learns about a writing system devised by an army captain and then modifies it in novel ways that would make it practical and easy to learn and use.
C: Yes. The government and the school do not want to use his system at first.
S: Yes, first his school has a headmaster who likes his ideas but once he is replaced, the new director bans its use.
C: The students already had been using it, but the new headmaster bans it. So they still use it, but in secret.
S: Yes, it is a very interesting story, isn’t it?
C: Yes, it definitely is. But it is also very sad.
S: Why do you say that?
C: Because he works so hard to develop this alphabet, he works when everybody is sleeping. But then people do not want to use it.
S: But in the end things work out, don’t they?
C: Yes. But he also dies.
S: Yes, people do die, but you are right that his death is sad too.
C: He dies from tuberculosis, and we can cure it today, right?
S: Yes, that is true and it is indeed sad. But at least he knew his alphabet was being used and was much appreciated by then. So what three words would you use to describe this book?
As the United States is approaching another presidential election, Sprinkles thought that it could be a good idea to review children’s books about a recent president: President Barack Obama. Here Sprinkles shares her candid opinions on five books about him, with the goal of informing parents of young bunnies. Perhaps other young bunnies (and their parents too) will find one or more of these books worth the read to learn from and get inspired by.
School-age bunnies often need to find people to write about for school reports. Most of the books I review in this post found their way to the book bunnies household as the younger bunnies were writing reports about their personal heroes, about well-known world leaders, and about past presidents. And occasionally young readers get their paws on books about inspiring people and just read them on their own. The five books I review in this post are all suitable for both kinds of reading goals. If your little one is curious about president Barack Obama, just keep reading to see which of these five books might be the right one for them!
In what follows I organize and present my thoughts in the order of reader level. By that I mean that the youngest bunnies will likely find it easier to read the books I mention first, and the older ones, those that are more independent readers and those that can handle more challenging sentences, might get more details and all around just more out of the books that come up later.
The first book I will describe for this review is President Barack Obama, written by A. D. Largie and illustrated by Sabrina Pichardo. A slim and mid-size paperback, this book is aimed at younger readers. It can be read out loud, as there is some basic rhyme built into the text on each page. I wished that some of this rhyming was made more visible by formatting of the text or by punctuation. For example the text “Barack Obama proved that you can can (sic) do anything that you believe as long as you hope for the best and focus you can achieve.” would be easier to read if it were written more visibly in two lines and / or with more punctuation:
Barack Obama proved that you can do anything that you believe,
As long as you hope for the best and focus, you can achieve.
Still, a parent used to reading books out loud for their little ones will probably figure out the rhythm soon enough.
There was also a small factual error in the book. Obama was elected to the Illinois state senate in 1996, and to the United States Senate in 2004. But again it is not a big enough deal; a parent can easily correct it while reading.
Despite these two minor issues, I would say that this can be a good book to teach young ones about President Obama. A part of a “Boys Grow Up To Be Heroes” book series, the book emphasizes that Obama was teased for his name when he was young but he persevered; he worked hard on his classes and on building community; and he wanted to bring people of many differences together. And after all that, he was the first black president! This can certainly be an inspiring read.
Next, I will describe Caroline Crosson Gilpin’s Barack Obama, published by National Geographic Kids. Rated Level 2 by the publisher, the book is meant for transitional readers who are getting comfortable reading on their own. The font size is large and the pictures are colorful. After a brief introduction starting on January 20, 2009, the day of the inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama, most of the rest of the book is organized chronologically, and ends the story with a quote from Obama himself:
“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
President Barack Obama
The book ends with a seven-question quiz, and a one-page glossary describing terms like “civil rights lawyer”, “community organizer”, and “multiracial”. All in all, this is a good book, telling the story with just enough details, and besides the facts, you also get a little dose of the inspiration that Obama’s presidency offered for many.
Barack Obama: Out of Many, One, written by Shana Corey and illustrated by James Bernardin, is also aimed toward the same level of readers, I believe. The book’s publisher Random House ranks it “Step 3: Reading on Your Own” and this is still written for the young reader, who is not yet quite ready for the chapter book. President Obama’s story is told in simple and clear language, from the beginning up to the time of writing of the book, during Obama’s second term. We start with:
We all have stories–each and every one of us. This is one of those stories. It is the story of a skinny little boy with a funny name and how he became part of America’s history.
and end along similar lines:
But the story is not complete. In fact it’s just started. Where does your story fit in the American story? You could help your neighbor or your school. You could even grow up to be president! Anything is possible–what happens next is up to you!
The illustrations are appealingly hand-drawn, and are peppered with actual photographic images. My favorite was the last one, right under the words I quoted above, where President Obama is looking at some school kids through a ginormous magnifying glass. And luckily due to copyright laws that say “a work of the U.S. federal government” will be on public domain, I can insert it right here:
Next I will share my thoughts on Who Is Barack Obama? by Roberta Edwards and John O’Brien. This book is clearly directed towards readers who are comfortable with chapter books, as it is one, and at over one hundred pages, it is actually quite an informative read. Its twelve chapters tell a chronological story, with a great many details, including a description of the Democratic nomination process and the competition between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton at the time before the 2008 presidential elections. The author seems to trust that her reader can handle both details and large-picture connections; I always appreciate authors who respect their readers! The book ends with two timelines, one for Obama’s life and the other noting some world events relevant to the narrative of the book.
I believe that this would make an excellent choice for the young reader who is curious to learn about President Obama. Illustrated in simple black and white sketches by John O’Brien, the book tells the story of one of the most inspiring political figures of our times, and situates his story within the wider American context.
The last book I will describe in this review is Stephen Krensky’s Barack Obama. This book also targets a similar audience but perhaps expects a little bit more from the reader. The font size is much smaller, the sentences are a little bit more complex, and the book overall has more the flavor of a historical biography than that of a children’s book. This is not particularly a disadvantage, however, and should definitely not deter any young reader wishing to learn more about the first black president of the United States. The details and the historical conextualization that were strengths for the previous book are also a strength for this one, and the photographic images add a lot to the book’s appeal.
The longest of the books reviewed in this blog post, at 125 pages, Krensky’s Barack Obama is a good text for those young bunnies writing reports or essays about the president, and it can be a good resource for learning more about his life and accomplishments. (Among other things, it contains a neat timeline and several references for further reading and study.) However, it does end on the inauguration day of 2009, and we do not learn much about his accomplishments as the forty-fourth president of the United States. Still, I would recommend it for those bunnies looking to learn more.
But perhaps those same young bunnies are up to learn even more about this man? Then I’d urge them and their parents to consider diving into one of Obama’s own books. Many parents will likely think Obama’s 2006 book The Audacity of Hope might be too political (or politically motivated) for their young ones, but his first book, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, written in 1995, tells this man’s tale up to that time in lyrical but not overly dramatic language. This is a beautiful coming-of-age story, and it is perhaps uniquely American. Obama tries in it to open up, understand (for himself–and to our benefit), and come to terms with his own multicultural multiracial heritage. It can be a challenging read for preteens, but for tweens and teenagers, it is bound to be inspiring. And I’d say, it can be especially so, knowing that this young man narrating his own story would become the forty-fourth president of the United States in a little less than fifteen years from the end of the book.
This week Caramel is talking about The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity, written by Amy Alznauer and illustrated by Daniel Miyares, the beautifully told and magically illustrated story of the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. As usual Sprinkles is taking notes and asking questions.
Sprinkles: So Caramel tell us about this book.
Caramel: You say that all the time!
S: I know, right? I do that because I think that is a good way to get you to start talking about the book. So?
C: Hmm, let me think a bit. This book is about a boy who went to school but his math is far more advanced than his classmates’.
S: So what does he do with that math?
C: He keeps on writing in a notebook, doing more and more math. And then he gets another notebook and writes in it.
S: So he is doing math almost compulsively. He seems like he cannot stop himself, right? He is driven to do math.
C: Yes. He sees numbers everywhere and then he opens up, divides, or cracks up the numbers to find more numbers in them.
S: Right! I liked the way the author put it (and this is also in the back cover of the book):
If Ramanujan could crack the number 1 open and find infinity, what secrets would he discover inside other numbers?
C: So why did he do math? Because he had to.
S: What do you mean? Is someone forcing him to do math?
C: No he wants to do it. And he cannot stop doing it. It’s almost compulsive.
S: That’s a big word for a little bunny Caramel!
C: I know. I do read a lot.
S: So the title of this book is The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity. This reminds me of the book with a similar title: The Man Who Knew Infinity, by Robert Kanigel. That book is also about Ramanujan, but it is not a beautifully illustrated book for kids like this one. And that book tells us about Ramanujan’s whole life while this one is more about him as a little boy when he was dreaming math and finding it all around him.
C: Oh that is interesting. I think I remember us watching a movie with that name.
S: You have a good memory!
C: Can we put in the trailer here?
S: Sure. Here we go.
S: So tell me more about this book. Do you like the pictures?
C: Yep. They are very detailed, and they are like they are from a dream. There are two pages where the boy is dancing around and jumping over numbers.
S: Yes, that page especially but the rest of the pictures are also dreamlike. The colors and the combination of images… But back to that page where Ramanujan is jumping around numbers: Can you imagine yourself jumping and flipping around numbers?
C: Of course! I like jumping! I’m a bunny!
S: That is true! Here is my last question: What does this book make you think about math?
C: Multiplication and division and addition, and numbers, and infinity.
S: Does it make you like them? Do you feel like you could enjoy playing around with numbers?
C: Yes, I already do! I like math!
S: That is great! Ok, this is a good time to wrap things up.
C: I want to rate this!
S: Ok. Give me three words that describe this book.
C: Detailed, mathematics, beautiful.
S: These are good descriptors for the book. I agree. I’d add “dream, infinity, imagination”. So what do we say to end this review?