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Review: Graphic Mystery #5: The Ancient Formula

My library sits across two math classrooms, so if all our doors are open, which is often, I hear a lot of math. I don’t mind, actually, because I like math and as I tell my students, I often use math in my everyday life, whether it’s for cooking, budgeting, or balancing a checkbook. And I definitely use math in my library. There’s circulation stats, keeping the library in order – (Dewey Decimal anyone?) and so on and so forth. What’s interesting is, with the shift to the common core standards this year, which insist on a conceptual understanding of what you’re doing, not just teaching the students to do the steps by rote, some of our students are having a very difficult time with the math.  So I’ve been looking for materials to better support my teachers and students.  Surprisingly, there are a lot of math related books and materials being published these days.

Manga Math Mysteries #5: The Ancient Formula: A Mystery with Fractions

By Melinda Thielbar.  Illustrated by Tintin Pantoja
Ages 8-12; Grades 3-6
Graphic Universe, 2011, 46 p.
PBK 9780761381341, $6.95

The Manga Math mysteries attempt to teach a math concept with real world applications within a story told in comic form. In this mystery, a group of students studying martial arts attempt to solve the mystery of an ancient formula. Sifu Faiza’s grandfather had developed a medicine that did wonders with healing. He hid it in an ancient ivory disk, leaving parts blank. Now the group—Joy, Adam, Amy and Sam—works to uncover it using some detective skills and fractions.

One thing I know for certain is that when you’re trying to teach, it’s that much harder to write a compelling story.  So while the story here doesn’t fall short, it’s hard to miss the math lesson. This is obviously written to teach a math concept. But if you can get past that, then this is a very entertaining read, and it does explain fractions (and gives a cooking lesson too!). The story could possibly help students struggling with the math concept.

The artwork is okay. It’s on the average side. It didn’t excite me, but I didn’t have any major negative reactions.  My biggest complaint was that I couldn’t tell the difference between the children and adults. It took me a long time to figure it out. Sifu, I gathered is supposed to be an adult, but she didn’t look much older than Joy, Adam, or Amy who are about 10 or so (I think).

On a whole, at $6.95, I’d purchase these for students learning new math concepts—though I need a few more titles that deal with algebra to reach my target audience.

Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. Her collection is also the model for all middle school libraries in NYC. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library, and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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