Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman

The BOY who LOVED MATH: the improbable life of Paul Erdos
by Deborah Heiligman; Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Roaring Brook Press. 2013
ISBN: 9781596433076
Grades 3 and up
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

There once was a boy who loved math.
Despite the fact that he couldn’t sit still, butter his bread or tie his shoes, Paul Erdos eventually grew up to become  1 of the greatest mathematicians who ever lived.

In The Boy Who Loved Math, prolific author, Deborah Heiligman (she’s written 7x4 books) offers a brief look at Erdos, born in Budapest, Hungary just before the start of World War II. A solitary child, Erdos preferred numbers to interacting with children his own age. By age 4, he would compute in his head how many seconds a person had been alive. At age 10, he fell in love with Prime Numbers.

“Paul had a lot of questions about prime numbers.
Do they go on forever?
Is there a pattern to them?
Why is it that the higher up you go,
the farther apart the prime numbers are?
Paul loved to think about prime numbers.”

Erdos was an unusual person. He was brilliant and well-loved by everyone he met. As Heiligman states in her author’s note, as an adult he was very generous with his knowledge. Instead of working alone, Erdos reached out to other math lovers the world over and was happy to share all he knew. Because of his willingness to share, new fields of math were founded and mathematical research, discoveries, and applications multiplied exponentially. Paul demonstrated that math could be fun and social.

The book’s design is very appealing. The overall tone of both text and illustrations is celebratory. Whenever possible, numbers replace words, and the artist LeUyen Pham incorporates equations, graphs, or number groups into the pictures. Pham also includes 3 pages of detailed explanation about the math used in the book. It was a fun book to read.

Pair The Boy Who Loved Math with Jon Scieszka’s Math Curse. Share with students in grades 3 and up, especially middle and high school math classes. I believe they will appreciate the humor and information. You can also find many videos with Erdos on YouTube. Heiligman recommends N is a Number. They are fun to watch because you do see that he had a great sense of humor, which Heiligman and Pham convey perfectly. 

Children often find math intimidating. To help students see that math can be fun, use the mathematical questions written by Laura Bilodeau Overdeck available for free on her website, Bedtime Math. 


  1. We're trying to build up our biography section in the library, and this is one that I've ordered for next year. Thanks for the math links--will pass those along to our teachers. :-)


  2. This looks like a good book that I will have to check out. There are so few books that integrate with math compared to science and social studies.

  3. My 6 year old daughter really enjoyed this book even though there are some concepts she's not quite ready for, but that just means she'll get more out of it in the future.

  4. Oh I really want this book for my son. He loves math and Math Curse is one of his favorite books ever! Thanks for the heads up. I have it as a possible Caldecott winner too. Fingers crossed!