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First Published: Sat, Feb 16 2008. 12 16 AM IST

Mathematwist: Number Tales from Around the World: By T.V. Padma, Tulika, 94 pages, Rs175.
Mathematwist: Number Tales from Around the World: By T.V. Padma, Tulika, 94 pages, Rs175.
Updated: Sat, Feb 16 2008. 12 16 AM IST
T.V. Padma (she writes as Padma Venkatraman for adults) has written animal stories, historical fiction, science and folk tales for children. This one is “mathematical folk tales” and the book has cleverly used the concept to pass on a scientific, not moral, message. No child should pass up the opportunity to own this collection of mathematical reasoning. “All children love stories, but not all like mathematics. So I combined both,” says Padma.
The book starts off with the delightful tale of the Armenian merchant who sets off to the market under strict instructions from his wife to sell their seven donkeys without losing any. He counts them, ties them together, climbs on one and sets out. Midway into the journey, astride one of the donkeys, he starts counting again and finds that there are just six. Puzzled, he jumps off and counts—seven again.
Mathematwist: Number Tales from Around the World: By T.V. Padma, Tulika, 94 pages, Rs175.
Happily jumping on to a donkey, he starts counting and discovers six. Finding that being on terra firma gets the seventh donkey back, he starts walking with them till he meets a woman who asks him why he is walking when he has so many donkeys. Laughing at his naivety, she comments that she can see eight donkeys. The Armenian sells off his donkeys but can’t stop thinking about the “poor woman who couldn’t count”.
Fourteen number tales from 10 countries make up this collection. Tales from Rome, China, Ethiopia, Greece, Russia, the US, Vietnam, India and a Jewish one comprise the numbers game. The Roman tale has Caesar’s intelligence saving the treasury a lot of money. In the Ethiopian tale, a father gives his three sons a coin each and tells them, “Whoever amongst you can buy something that can fill this room will inherit my house after my death.” Among the other stories is one about a Vietnamese king who wants his scientists to calculate when the world would end. Read it and figure it out for yourselves. We won’t give out the secrets here.
Mathematwist is full of interesting snippets. Did you know that logarithms were invented in India and that the Western world didn’t know about them till the 17th century? “What is referred to as Arabic numeral,” points out Padma, “is actually Indian. And not all mathematical formulae came from Greece,” she argues. She feels India has not got due recognition. As acknowledgment of that fact, Mathematwist has five folk tales from India.
Padma chose math out of “choice”. As a child, she loved the world of language as much as that of math. “I had some very good teachers,” she says, giving credit where it is due. “My mother,” she remembers, “told me that as a child I used to love solving arithmetic problems.” That love stayed for life. Ten years ago, she decided to do something about it and the idea for Mathematwist was born. She knew a couple of folk tales which had a mathematical angle. After much research, similar tales from other countries were reformulated to weave this book.
Are children reading books? If children are to read, she says, “Adults, too, should read children’s books. Harry Potter, for instance, allowed that.” Mathematwist has something for teachers, too. On her website, www.cliofindia.com/padma, there is a free guide to the book, which can be downloaded.
Padma—who lives in Rhode Island, USA—has been in various interesting jobs. She was chief scientist on several scientific cruises at the Institute of Meereskunde in Kiel, Germany, and director of a school in England. Her next book for young adults, Climbing The Stairs, is set to hit bookshelves in May.
(The writer is the editor of Heek (e-heek.com), a children’s magazine. Write to lounge@livemint.com)
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First Published: Sat, Feb 16 2008. 12 16 AM IST
More Topics: Numbers game | Math | Parenting |