Thursday, September 17, 2009

Heavy, Man! On the Scale, a Weighty Tale by Brian P. Cleary

Weighing things is how we find
the heaviness of stuff--
a soccer ball,
great-grandma's shawl,
a bag of pillow fluff.

Making sense of mathematical concepts is no laughing matter in the elementary grades, but a bit of jolly rhyme and some zany, rainbow-colored cats on your side couldn't hurt. To that end, Brian P. Cleary and Brian Gable are back with their latest entry in their very popular concept series, Math Is Categorical/Words Are Categorical (Millbrook Press).

On the Scale, a Weighty Tale (Math Is Categorical) takes on weighty matters in its explanation of the traditional "English" measurement system (now properly termed the "American/Canadian" system since the U.K. has virtually dropped it) and its rival, the metric system. Cleary carefully associates the terms for weight with common objects to give the reader the "feel" as well as the terminology for each unit:
An ounce is just the thing to use
for very light amounts.
That slice of bread
you've just been fed?
It weighs about an ounce.

Gable's frolicking cats and apprentice mice illustrate each concept humorously, as when in the verse above we see a perturbed feline storekeeper in the process of selling a full loaf as a larcenous gray mouse makes off with a stack of sixteen slices. The text then proceeds to illustrate the concept of the 16-ounce pound and the 2,000-pound ton:

A ton is huge--
it takes 2,000 pounds
to make just 1.
Cars, and whales upon the scales
are measured by the ton.

Cleary and Gable next scale their story to the metric system, beginning with its smallest common unit, comparing each metric unit to its American cousin to create a frame of reference for the reader:
A gram is not a cracker
and it's not your parents' mothers.
It's a weight,
so get this straight--
it's smaller than most others.

A dollar bill or paper clip
weigh near 1 gram, you know.
Inside 1 ounce, you can announce,
there's 28 or so.

The author continues with the kilogram and the metric ton:
1,000 kilograms are what
make up 1 metric ton--
about as heavy as a Chevy
(at least the smaller one.)

Cleary and Gable's humorous but light-hearted look at hefty matters of measure makes a great introduction to a subject so often weighed down by hard-to-remember tables of measure to be memorized. Bouncy verse and comic illustrations help the basics of weight stick without weighing upon the mind, until at last the reader is graduated, magnitude cum laude:
You've picked up lots of "heavy" words
and now you know enough
to teach a class, because--alas--
you've learned a TON of stuff.

At a bargain price, this title and others in these two notable co-series do an admirable job in explaining grammatical terms and mathematical operations to the elementary reader. Take a look, for example, at their tantalizingly titled How Much Can a Bare Bear Bear?: What Are Homonyms and Homophones? (Words Are Categorical), Hairy, Scary, Ordinary: What Is an Adjective? (Words Are Categorical), Pitch and Throw, Grasp and Know: What Is a Synonym? (Words Are Categorical), and, that wordsmith's favorite, Rhyme & Punishment: Adventures in Wordplay. And for the numerically numb, see, for example, The Action of Subtraction (Math Is Categorical) and The Mission of Addition (Math Is Categorical).

Great for teachers, homeschoolers, and just plain interested parents, and fun enough for kids to pick them up on their own, this title and its series mates make a good jumping off place for some heavy-duty concepts.

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