The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos

by Deborah Heiligman (Author) Leuyen Pham (Illustrator)

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

Most people think of mathematicians as solitary, working away in isolation. And, it's true, many of them do. But Paul Erdos never followed the usual path. At the age of four, he could ask you when you were born and then calculate the number of seconds you had been alive in his head. But he didn't learn to butter his own bread until he turned twenty. Instead, he traveled around the world, from one mathematician to the next, collaborating on an astonishing number of publications. With a simple, lyrical text and richly layered illustrations, this is a beautiful introduction to the world of math and a fascinating look at the unique character traits that made "Uncle Paul" a great man.

A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2013 A New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Book of 2013

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
An exuberant and admiring portrait introduces the odd, marvelously nerdy, way cool Hungarian-born itinerant mathematical genius.

Horn Book Magazine

An infinitely creative and entertaining book.

School Library Journal

Gr 3-6--Erdos (1913-1996), the Hungarian-born son of two math teachers, displayed his fascination with numbers early on. Before entering school he could calculate the number of seconds a person had lived just by asking the time and date of their birth. Unable to sit still and follow rules in school, he was homeschooled by his mother. High school was a better fit, and he made friends with students who shared his love of math. His skills became famous, but Erdos didn't know how to do laundry, cook, or even butter his own bread. He "didn't fit into the world in a regular way." So, he created a life that fit him instead. For years he flew around the world, his modest belongings in two suitcases, working with other noted mathematicians. They worked on number and set theory as well as new ideas like combinatorics and the probabilistic method. Some of their efforts led to the better computers and search engines that we use today. The well-researched text and painstakingly accurate illustrations (in terms of setting and mathematics) provide a fascinating introduction to the man. The oversize eyes of the characters give many of them, especially Erdos, a rather maniacal look that is off-putting. The extensive endnotes provide much information and would be useful in a classroom setting. That may be the most likely scenario for exposing children to this picture-book biography. Only the most mathematically devoted would pick it up on their own.--Sara-Jo Lupo Sites, George F. Johnson Memorial Library, Endicott, NY

Copyright 2013 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

As a boy in Budapest, Paul Erdos (1913-1996) had problems to solve, but they didn't involve math. Rules were a problem, and school was another: "Paul told Mama he didn't want to go to school anymore. Not for 1 more day, for 0 days. He wished he could take days away--negative school days!" Heiligman and Pham cleverly incorporate mathematical references through this story, which follows Erdos from a numbers-obsessed boy to a numbers-obsessed man who flouted societal norms and couch-surfed the globe--other mathematicians were honored to have him as a guest for the chance to talk math with him. Erdos's unconventional brilliance shines through on every page, and extensive author and illustrator notes (including Pham's explanations of the mathematical concepts she works into each illustration) will delight readers with even a fraction of Erdos's interest in math. Ages 3-8. (June)

Copyright 2013 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"Pair this with Don Brown's Odd Boy Out (BCCB 10/04) to compare genius eccentricities, or hand it to middle-grade lovers of math puzzles—opened to the notes." —BCCB

Deborah Heiligman

Deborah Heiligman has written numerous books for young readers, including Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith, a National Book Award finalist. She lives in New York City.

LeUyen Pham has illustrated dozens of books for kids, including God's Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Freckleface Strawberry by Julianne Moore, and her own Big Sister, Little Sister.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Roaring Brook Press
Publication date
June 20, 2013
Finalist 2013 - 2013
Orbis Pictus Award
Honor Book 2014 - 2014
Cook Prize
Winner 2014 - 2014
Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children and Teens
Recommended 2014 - 2014
Maryland Blue Crab Young Reader Award
Honor Book 2014 - 2014
Grand Canyon Reader Award
Nominee 2016 - 2016
Young Hoosier Book Award
Nominee 2016 - 2016

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