This one’s a bit of a head-scratcher.

Richard Evan Schwartz’s Really Big Numbers has a great premise. A kids book that takes some fairly advanced mathematical concepts and presents them in a lively, engaging and understandable format. So far, so good.

Schwartz does a commendable job of taking the concepts surrounding Really Big Numbers and explaining them in a fairly comprehensible format, from simple counting to very high numbers, visual representation of big numbers, conceptual representations when there’s no more space for dots on the page, an explanation of powers of 10 all the way to tree stuctures and networks, recursion, plexing and really big numbers. So far, so good.

Well, maybe not so good.

I think the confusion for me comes in the format of the book versus the age range it seems to be aiming for. The book itself, with its size, sparse text, simple vocabulary and colourfully childish and wacky art seems aimed at perhaps the under 10 set. Really, books with a similar look and format are often aimed at very young children, under 5 even.

But the context itself, especially by the second half of the book seems more appropriate for 10 and older.

So while I would definitely recommend this book for mathematically inclined and interested from the ages 10 and up, I would caution that they may look at you funny because the book does very much look like it’s aimed at younger kids. Younger kids may appreciate the artwork, but all but the very most precocious will find the level too high for most of the book.

While admirable, this book needed to either make the content more appropriate to the format or change the format to something that would appeal to older kids, like the Survive! series I reviewed a while back.

Schwartz, Richard Evan. Really Big Numbers. Providence: American Mathematical Society, 2014. 192pp. ISBN-13: 978-1470414252.

Other science graphic novels and illustrated books I have reviewed:

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