Math Picture Book Post #2: Calvin Can’t Fly

In my first math picture book post, I suggested these may fall into three categories. In this post, I’ll take a look at a book from the third category. Calvin Can’t Fly by Jennifer Berne is the story of a young starling who reads while his brothers, sisters, and cousins learn to fly. Calvin uses his aquired knowledge to save his migrating family from a hurricane. Calvin Can’t Fly is about a love of books (and libraries!). It’s about being different. It’s not about math. That is, the author did not intend to write a book about mathematics. Nonetheless, we can find math if we look for it…

How many starlings are there in the picture below? Take a guess. It’s free!

It helps students to use a referent–a group whose quantity they know–to estimate the quantity in a larger group. A group of ten can be used (see below). Students can visualize the number of starlings in terms of groups of ten. Making groups of ten helps students count– it’s a place value thing. There are several other pages where students could be asked to estimate the number of starlings.

Do you want to change your estimate?

One of the problems with my three categories is that it requires guessing the author’s intent. I am arguing that Jennifer Berne did not write “the story of a bookworm birdie” with referents in mind. Of course, I may be wrong. If I ever interview Jennifer Berne, she may insist that there is hidden meaning in her art– kinda like some sort of children’s literature anti-Dylan.

Watch the first 40 seconds of the video below for more estimation fun. Also, you have to watch uber-intense hair hat guy as he asks Dylan about the hidden meaning in the t-shirt he wears on the cover of Highway 61 Revisited.

Note: Great Estimations & Greater Estimations by Bruce Goldstone provide more opportunities for students to practice using referents to estimate. And check out Andrew Stadel’s new blog, Estimation 180Day 7 nicely uses a referent established on Day 6.

Ain’t that somethin’?

4 Replies to “Math Picture Book Post #2: Calvin Can’t Fly”

  1. I love your third category! Here’s a book for your third category: The Bunyans, by Audrey Wood.

    It’s a picture book with a tall tale about Paul Bunyan and his family. It’s funny I just read your post today, and my 7yo and I have recently moved into exploring concepts of multiplication. The first thing I thought when she brought me the book to read today was ‘scale’!! On the first page Paul Bunyan makes a torch out of an acre of corn — ‘how much is an acre?’ was her first question to which I replied, ‘I guess our house sits on about 1/4 an acre so four times bigger than the land we live on?’ A number of times as I read she’d say things like “Look how small that preacher (marrying Ma and Pa Bunyan) are to them!” and similar observations.

    The biggest question running through my mind while I read her the book (full of pictures like Paul’s young son Jean pulling a covered wagon like it’s a toy) was — are the illustrations really to scale? I don’t have enough knowledge of or experience with this concept, but the questions are still there. How big was Paul Bunyan really, based on the tall tales about him? If Paul is x feet tall, how tall are his kids? Could Paul’s daughter ‘Teeny’ really ride on the back of two blue whales? It would be really cool if students could pick any page in the book and show whether the author and/or illustrator were wrong or right about issues of scale.

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