Thursday, September 25, 2014

The 14 Fibs of Gregory K, by Greg Pincus

This is a realistic MG novel about math and writing. How could I not read it?

Gregory is a middle child. Not only that, he's the middle child math-hater in a family of math lovers. Really, math eaters, breathers, and sleepers, if you're looking at Gregory's father and his older brother Owen, who both won the famed "City Math" competition in their day, and who spend almost all of their time in an attic study devoted completely to math. Mom, whose feet are a bit more on terra firma, is an accountant. (Not the same thing, but to anybody who hates math, it probably is.) Kay, Gregory's younger sister, is just wicked smart, period.

Gregory loves to write, which he has not dared breathe a word of to anyone except his best friend, Kelly, who shares that love and who wants him to go to Author Camp with her in the summer. Especially since Kelly and her mom are moving away after the school year ends in a few short weeks and they won't see each other much anymore. Gregory promises they will go. Except he hasn't asked his parents, and he can't do that because they'll say no due to his current failing math score. In fact, his parents are going to make him go to Math is Magic Camp if he can't get his grade up. Continuing to fib to his parents about his love for math, because he can't bear to baldly state that he doesn't fit into his family, he recklessly declares that he's going to enter City Math himself.

In short, the key to Gregory's getting through all this is that he makes up a form of poetry he calls "Fibs." The poems contain 6 lines, a total of 20 syllables, and each line has a number of syllables equal to the first six Fibonacci Numbers: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8. (In the Fibonacci Sequence, each number is equal to the sum of the previous two.) The Fibs begin each chapter and are sprinkled throughout, besides, and are delightful.

Gregory's math teacher is a really good character, and Gregory does have to work for his grade. However, I have this underlying feeling that, despite the great things that happen in the personal study program they devise, Gregory is really leaving 6th grade not knowing what he needs to know. And I'm not sure his teacher, in real life, wouldn't have to face some backlash. Kay, the younger sister, has some wildly precocious dialogue that I had to take with a grain of salt, and I found it odd that the reason for Kelly's move, when her mom already owns a thriving dessert restaurant right here, isn't explained.

But I loved the emphasis on math that won't bog a non-math reader down, the true kid appeal (these are genuine MG problems and stakes), and I loved this: Studies have shown that boys fall into one of four categories -- they're good at math, writing, both, or neither. Girls, however, fall into three categories -- they're good at writing, both, or neither. What this means is that if a girl is good at math, she's good at language, too. When I first read this research, I thought back through years and years of experience in math classes, and realized my experience fit the statement. Girls who had math talent also had language talent. Gregory is good at language/writing and not math. Kelly is good at both. Kay is good at both. Had the girls been good at math only, I wouldn't have been convinced by them. But for me, all three kids passed the test. :)

15 comments:

Andrea Mack said...

I enjoyed this book, especially the emphasis on math since I have a daughter who loves math.

Your observation about girls who are good at math being good at language too is interesting, since girls often don't seem to think they are good at math.

Mirka Breen said...

I'm not a middle child or a boy, but other than that I AM GREGORY. I'm surrounded by math lovers and whizzes, have been all my life.
This books sounds like the one I will read next...

Vijaya said...

I love your book recs, Marcia. You make interesting observations about gender differences, writing and math. I never knew that. Is there also a correlation to music? I'm finding that math and music go hand in hand, but not necessarily writing and music.

Leandra Wallace said...

I love that cover! The brightness and that slice of pie. One of my fav things I used to doodle as a kid was a slice of pie, w/steam swirls coming off the top. =D

Marcia said...

Andrea -- Yes, girls are usually the minority in math. But not as big a minority as men are in our field. :)

Mirka -- I love really identifying with a MC.

Vijaya -- I've seen math and music go hand in hand for many, but I haven't seen it as quite as inevitable.

Leandra -- I love it, too. The book almost had to have both pi and pie, right? :)

Kelly Hashway said...

I love that the Fibonacci sequence is used in this. Okay, it's because I love to say Fibonacci. ;) It might be the best sounding word ever. The book sounds really cute though, and I really like the cover.

Marcia said...

Kelly -- It must be Fibonacci's turn for some attention. He showed up in another novel or two, too.

Bish Denham said...

I must be an exception. Because I'm dyslexic, I'm lousy at math and never did well. But I was always good in language, though spelling was tough. When I was tested in 6th grade my math skills were 3rd/4th grade level, but my reading/comprehension/writing skills were 11th/12th grade.

marciastrykowski.com said...

Nice review, Marcia!

Marcia said...

Bish -- It's a good thing dyslexia is a recognized condition today. It's great that it didn't affect your reading!

Marcia -- Thanks!

Janet Johnson said...

I hadn't heard of this one. I do love the idea of math as the issue. I am a math lover (to a certain degree), but can feel for those who don't love it as much.

Guess I better check this one out. :)

janet smart said...

I hadn't heard of this book, either. It sounds interesting. I loved math up until high school, then it got a little over my head. Thanks for the review.

Marcia said...

Janet J -- I love books that do this. Secrets, Lies, and Algebra by Wendy Lichtman is another. I love how it corrects the notion that "there's only one answer."

Janet S -- I always hope books like this might give math haters a slightly different perspective.

Medeia Sharif said...

I'd like to read it and I imagine many children wanting to pick it up, too.

Marcia said...

Medeia -- I do think it has a kid-friendly cover, math notwithstanding. :)