With these two marvelous children's books, parents can sneak in some fun math lessons to inspire young minds, and or at least make them laugh.
"One Grain of Rice", a mathematical folktale by Demi, is the colorful retelling of a mathematical folktale. It makes gripping bedtime reading for children between the ages of 4-8, with ingenious illustrations inspired by traditional Indian miniature paintings of the sixteenth and seventeenth century.
Children swoon over the clever Rani, who outsmarts a greedy raja using her superior math skills. And the end pages are an extra treat, as they fold out to reveal dozens of unlikely royal animals making generous deliveries to the heroine of the story.
In reading "One Grain of Rice", children are learning about the concept of exponential growth (just what happens when you double an amount 30 times?), along with the culture of medieval India. But don't tell them it's a lesson -- the exploits of Rani on behalf of the hungry farmers are so amusing, they won't know they're learning, they will simply be laughing when they see how well she tricks the raja.
Although "One Grain of Rice" is aimed at younger children, older students of algebra and calculus can work with this story, to chart Rani's inspiring progress and predict her rice-gathering success throughout the month. One excellent spreadsheet and basic lesson plan for these students is published here.
An additional explanation of the fable, along with it's origins (perhaps it's how chess was invented!) and helpful formulas are listed on this wiki page.
A similar book that may interest children -- if they aren't into math, the candy will hook them -- is How Many Jellybeans by Andrea Menotti, cleverly illustrated by Yancey Labat. Although it's not as purely exponential as One Grain of Rice, the giant fold-out pages explain quantities almost as well as actual piles of candy.
In this story, two children begin arguing about how many jellybeans the want, or can, ingest. Their dog adds some lovely comic relief as the conversation becomes larger, more stomach-churning, and ridiculously gigantic.
Children may be surprised to learn how fast a number can grow, and that some dogs prefer a jellybean snack. By the time the book progresses to "one million jellybeans," kids are in stitches.
Kids of any age will enjoy the mesmerizing fold-out pages and art in both One Grain of Rice and How Many Jellybeans. And their parents will enjoy slipping in a math lesson -- the kids won't suspect a thing!