Mystery Math: A First Book of Algebra

Written by David A. Adler
Illustrated by Edward Miller

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Halloween is spooky-scary and so is math. David Adler puts them both together, using the imagery of Halloween, which is not really scary after all, to show that once you understand the principles of mathematics, it is not really scary either.

What a fun idea! Skeletons peek from cupboards, and oh my gosh you have to count them! Imagine dividing skeletons, adding bats, subtracting ravens; activities right up the alley for third grade readers. Yay! Yay! Bring them on, we will add, subtract, multiply and divide these spooky creatures.

But how do you find the solutions to these activities? The author sneaks in the key concept of balance: whatever you do on one side of the equal sign you do to the other, so it balances. And what is balance? The visual image of a see-saw at the start of the book helps explain the concept to young readers. From there the reader is led in easy stages to the algebraic terms equation (an algebra equation has an equal sign and an unknown, a mystery number) and variable (the mystery number).

Now that the vocabulary is established let’s get to work. Real life examples demonstrate how math is not just juggling with numbers, but applies to real situations. Mandy and Billy stop by a haunted house. Mandy sees 6 birds fly away, and counts 13 still sitting on the wire. How many birds were there in all? The readers learns how to set up the equation, and solve it.

Wasn’t so scary after all, was it? Young readers will breeze through the examples (wisely, the author includes examples using all four arithmetic operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division), and teachers will cheer for this read aloud introduction to algebra.

The back matter gives directions on how to make a balance scale: a truly algebraic activity!

Additional resources:
Author Bio:

Basic Algebra Skills:

  • Mystery MathTitle: Mystery Math: A First Book of Algebra
  • Author: David A. Adler
  • Illustrator: Edward Miller
  • Publisher: Holiday House
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Hardback: 28 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-8234-2289-0
  • Genre: Picture book/Nonfiction

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