Combining World Book Day and World Maths Day with 752 smarties

posted in: Andrea Menotti, Yancey Labat | 19

Are you ready to celebrate letters, words, numbers and sums? Not only is tomorrow World Book Day but next week, on March 7th, it’s World Maths Day!

The teachers at M and J’s school asked me to come up with a list of fiction picture books with a mathematical theme to use this week and next as a way of combining World Book Day and World Maths Day. The way it’s worked out, I’m going into school every afternoon for this week and next, reading mathematically inspired stories to different classes each day, just before home time.

Here are some of the books I’m using:

One book I’m particularly having fun reading with the kids is How Many Jelly Beans? by Andrea Menotti, illustrated by Yancey Labat.

This self-proclaimed “giant book of giant numbers” starts out with an appealing question for any young listener or reader: “How may jelly beans would you like [..]?”.

You’ve probably asked your own kids a similar question and then seen them do a certain complicated calculation in their head…

[[How many do I really want (LOTS) – How many I think my mum thinks I ought to have (ONLY A FEW)] x How hungry I’m feeling (actually this doesn’t really matter)] / my age + a few extra for good measure

…before coming up with a number that they hope satisfies everyone. In this case, the two kids in How Many Jelly Beans? start out with a reasonable enough request for 10 beans. But siblings being siblings, an element of competitiveness creeps in, and soon the kids are trying to out-do each other with their outrageous requests and bullish statements of bravura when it comes to how many, how very many jelly beans they each reckon they could eat.

Each number chosen by the children is represented by the same number of jelly beans on the page. Ten fit nicely in a hand, five thousand stacked end on end reach as tall as a 10 storey building. But five thousand is quite a small number really, and before long things have spiralled into delicious fantasy land: what would 1 million jelly beans look like?

When I read this book I start by asking the class what’s their favourite sweet and how many they’d like to eat. That immediately gets their attention. Then when I produce this book, which seems to validate their sugar fuelled day dreams, they get very excited indeed 🙂

Illustrations © Yancey Labat

The book itself is a lovely thing to hold and read – it’s large (a little smaller than A3), very brightly coloured, and the bold design is clear and arresting, all adding up to an excellent book for reading aloud to groups of kids. I have to succumb to saying, it really is eye candy [feel free to grown away], especially for young kids.

The pièce de résistance in this book is the final spread which opens up to the size of a teacher’s desk or so, depicting a very large number of jelly beans indeed. This isn’t a metaphor about numbers, this really is an illustration of what 1 million jelly beans can look like. It’s great to ask a kid to come and help me open up this foldout, further drawing the audience into the whole book-reading experience.

As Besty Bird puts it in her review of How Many Jelly Beans?

Now at long last we’ve a book that not only encourages kids to count on their own, but hits them over the head with a number they may hear all the time but could never quite comprehend. […] This book brings numbers home to kid readers. And after they go through it I can guarantee that they’ll never write off the idea of a million anything ever again.

Now as it happens, jelly beans are not hot favourites in this home, but Smarties are. So to try to visualise some really big numbers of our own we spent some of the weekend playing with the most Smarties I’ve ever dared bring into the house…

First the girls sorted them into piles of the same colour, and counted up how many in each pile.

Then we counted how many smarties we had altogether. To make it easy for J to get involved we put our smarties into piles of 5 (something which at age 3 J can do on her own).

M then counted up in fives to find out the grand total…

752 is a pretty large number if you are 7 or 3 years old. But I wanted to explore some much bigger numbers, so out came the rice…

A couple of kilos of rice!

I used a toothpick to sort the rice into piles of “meaningful” numbers – 1, 4 (the number of people in our immediate family), 15 (representing our extended family), 200 (pupils in M and J’s school). I then weighed 25g of rice and counted up how many grains there were in that small pile… 1542!! Yes, that took me quite a lot of time (much to the delight of my smarties-munching children 🙂 )

Using 1542 grains of rice as my basis, I was then able to estimate how many grains of rice were in the large pile of rice on the table….

So not anywhere near a million, but still, a lot of fun, with some fairly big numbers.

Whilst we played with smarties and rice we listened to a whole lot of great music featuring numbers including:

  • One by U2
  • One And One by Robert Miles Feat.Maria Nayler
  • One Love by Bob Marley
  • Take Five by The Dave Brubeck Quartet
  • I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers
  • Land Of 1000 Dances by Wilson Pickett
  • 100,000 Years by KISS

  • If that’s not enough for you then you could try this list of songs which has a song for every number from 100 to 1, or this list of suggestions from the Guardian Readers Recommend column all about songs with numbers in their titles.

    If you really don’t want to do maths with lots of sweets, other things you can do inspired by How Many Jelly Beans? include:

  • Seeking out more maths themed picture books. I like the maths lists created by Christchurch Libraries, and by
  • Learning more about the art installation All the People in the World, which inspired my playing with rice above. This is a project that explores human population, by using grains of rice to represent individual people. It’s mindboggling.
  • Making a colourful mosaic – the images in How Many Jelly Beans? made me think of the beautiful mosaics I’ve seen at Glittering Shards. Concetta has lots of ideas for making mosaics with kids.

  • So… What’s your personal record for most smarties /jelly beans eaten in one day? (It’s alright, your secret will be safe with me…)

    And if you like playing the game where you guess how many jelly beans are in a jar, do come back tomorrow when I will have a little game specially for you, but involving books and the chance to win an original illustration by one of the most exciting new illustrators in the UK…

    Disclosure: I received my copy of How Many Jelly Beans? from the publisher. This review remains my own and honest opinion.

    19 Responses

    1. Myra from GatheringBooks

      Oh wow! You never cease to amaze me, Zoe! What a lovely lovely project with the kids – I must confess that I have not explored Math picture books as much as I should (which is a shame). My daughter’s school (she goes to an international school) also celebrates World Maths Day, so I could somewhat relate to this post. Will link her teacher to your blogpost. 🙂
      Myra from GatheringBooks recently posted..March AWB Reviews

    2. Elli

      Would it be very sadistic of me to leave Child3 with a kilo of rice and ask him to count out every single grain (preferably while I put my feet up and had a glass of wine)? And without showing him any Smartie counting, of course. Yep, thought so.
      The number book we’ve been reading recently is Mij Kelly’s ‘One More Sheep’ – fantastic illustrations, amusing text (in verse) and lots of opportunities for counting sheep.
      Elli recently posted..Stinky Stonky Stanley Stu

    3. Clara

      What a joyful post! And I think we’re all loving that pic of you counting out the rice: such dedication!

      It’s great to get a handle on maths right from when you’re small. I often find arty or wordy people who wear their poor numeracy skills almost as a badge of pride, and that’s a bit daft.
      (perhaps I should do this too: I ALWAYS learn best through my stomach)
      Clara recently posted..Hoorah for the Booklinks Pop-up Festival!

    4. choxbox

      Wow. Make it double wow.
      You have patience lady!

      What a brilliant idea! You are amazing!

    5. Zoe

      Thanks Choxbox. On good days I do have patience. That’s one of the biggest things motherhood has taught me!

    6. Donna McKinnon

      While math haunted me as a kid, I am in favour of books about math, just not actual math 🙂
      Great post as per usual. Love the falling rice picture. BTW, another suggestion: Emily Gravett’s The Rabbit Problem, about the Fibonacci sequence, which I reviewed last year-


    7. Latia

      You never fail to amaze me Sue.. I ca’t imagine my self to accomplish such tedious counting. The idea is great for the children!
      Latia recently posted..How To Cure Tinnitus

    8. Andrea and Yancey

      Hi Zoe, We just wanted to say thank you for this wonderful post. We love all the “number play” you have here! Thank you so much for sharing these ideas and for engaging with the book in such an inspiring way!

      • Zoe

        Goodness! Thank you Andrea and Yancey, how very kind of you to stop by my blog. I’m honoured! I’ve since read the book a lot of times in school and the gasps it generates from kids are wonderful to hear. Thank YOU!

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