on 22 October 2009
I found this book just by chance and really believe that it's a treasure.
I got it for a student of mine who hates math. He's 12 years old, just like Robert in the story, really active, more interested in any computer game than anything having to have to do with school, generally doesn't understand a lot of mathematical concepts nor the need to study math.
We have begun to read the book together, chapter by chapter, each of us taking one of the parts - sometimes he's the devil and sometimes he's Robert, depending on the mood he's in. We have a lot of fun making up voices for the two characters, and he really pays attention and tries to follow the math concepts. We have a lot of fun screaming out the dialogue and bringing the scenes to life.
He's also fascinated by the illustrations which are captivating and original.
This boy, who would rather play soccer or video games than have anything to do with his studies, now asks to read the book, and is a bit more patient with his homework. I can't tell you what that means as a teacher - to have found something that works so well with a student. The original approach to basic math concepts is also a gem and he's being introduced to sophisticated math skills in a very nonchalant manner.
I strongly recommend trying the book and seeing if your child reacts well to it as well.
on 13 June 2001
My 8 year old loves this - she has always had a knack for seeing patterns and methods in numbers. The book has a lot of humour and some good illustrations. However, it is only likely to appeal to a child (or adult) who revels in numbers; it could be useful for teaching or illustrating one or two concepts (e.g. Fibonacci sequences) to classrooms or individual kids who might otherwise struggle to grasp the concepts.
A very creditable aim. What is unique is that Hans Magnus Enzensberger, b. 1929, is a German translator, editor, author and poet – but has no pretentions to being a mathematician. The book has been translated into American-English by Michael Henry Heim and is beautifully illustrated by Rotraut Susanne Berner.
Enzenberger seeks to demystify mathematics and to support and encourage children [I would judge aged 9 and over] who find difficulty in this area of study. His method is to focus on a boy, Robert, and a devil who are brought together through a series of dreams that uncover the mathematical relationships and ideas that surround them [and us].
There is a balance to be drawn between content and presentation, and the needs of each child will be different. However, I can envisage this book being very useful to parents who want to work with their children in advance of their mathematical studies so that difficulties can be identified at the earliest possible stage and appropriate remedial action undertaken. Its secondary aim is to instill in children an abiding interest in mathematical manipulations.
The weakness is that the very children who could most benefit are those least likely to have access to this book for economic or social reasons. If only children and parents who share problems with mathematics could work together and so reinforce one another’s progress. Since children will respond to different stories, there is an opportunity for schools and enlightened parents to supplement and complement these stories with others better suited to the requirements of each individual child.
Enzensberger’s literary skill is evident in the quirky manner that he adopts to establish and explain the central relationship between Robert, the archetypal child, and the number devil who engage with one another. With each dream their relationship broadens and deepens, and soon Robert eagerly awaits his next dream meeting with the number devil. The latter is unable to comprehend how anyone could not grasp or delight in the sheer beauty and usefulness of mathematics.
A third character, Mr. Bockel, is a stereotypical mathematics teacher who feels no need to connect his subject to the demands of everyday life. Much of his time is taken preparing lessons, setting questions and working through answers without any thought of inspiring his students. The character of Mother, another stereotype, represents the parent unable to understand her child and without the intellectual wherewithall to discuss his initial difficulties and latent ability. She even encourages him to play with friends rather than pursue his new mathematical interests.
One complication that I see as an adult [not the target audience], is that the author renames mathematical concepts in a fanciful fashion, thus ‘imaginary numbers’ become ‘imaginative numbers,’ ‘prime numbers’ become ‘prima donna numbers’, ‘Fibonacci numbers’ become ‘Bonacci numbers’. In a ‘Warning!’ at the end of the book he justifies this by saying that ‘technical terms don’t exist in dreams’. It is important not to name mathematical principles [geometry, algebra, arithmetic, calculus, statistics and so on] since this can often be the beginning of a black hole into which understanding, confidence and joy disappear. If readers can identify with Robert, the main protagonist, who has struggled unsuccessfully for a long time, then they may, and hopefully will, find assistance here.
The Index is thoughtfully titled ‘Seek-and Ye-Shall-Find List’ and includes his fanciful terminology in italics. When one understands and enjoys something, and gains immediate benefit [such as knowing how to multiply any number by 11], one obviously learns more quickly and is ready to take every opportunity to demonstrate new skills to family and school friends.
The mathematical topics addressed include infinity, transfinite numbers, fractions [one piece of chewing gum, two people – the gum goes on top, the people on the bottom - 1/1+1 – simple!], combinations and permutations, powers, Pascal’s triangle, Goldbach’s conjecture, Golden Mean, Pythagoras’ Theorem and many others, at each stage demystifying and engaging. There is much more, of course, but this book offers a great opportunity to create a firm basis from which to build the future of the individual and the society, 9/10.
on 17 May 2012
This book makes maths fun, even for those little people who believe it to be a laborious trudge through treacle. In fact, that would describe Robert, the main character in this book. He has been struggling with maths for as long as he can remember. One night, he dreams that he meets a little devil, The Number Devil, who teaches him, as he sleeps, all sorts of useful tricks with numbers.
When you enjoy something, and gain immediate benefit, you obviously learn more.
My Dad made all aspects of mathematics enjoyable for me from a very early age, almost from when I could walk and talk, by relating what we were seeing in the real world to mathematics in some way. He didn't label the principles as geometry, algebra, arithmetic, and so on. He just mde it all part of my world. Consquently, I never scored less than 90% in any maths test or exam in my life. I just enjoy maths as much as living.
The same holds for Robert, and for readers of this lovely little book.
My grandson was hating maths, and couldn't see the point. When I took him through the first chapter of The Number Devil, he could suddenly, and effortlessly, multiply 11 by 11, 1111 by 1111, 1111111 by 1111111 and so on. He also learned, through self motivation inspired by his "new trick" to multiply any number you could throw at him by eleven.
This may seem a small step, but you can believe me when I tell you that it was a massive step for Alfie. Furthermore, he couldn't wait to get to school the next day to show his new skills to his class-mates and his teacher.
That wasn't all. There was much more magic to be revealed in this great little book, and I would encourage anyone to share it with their children, even if they are already very numerate. It just gives them, and you, a new spin on an ancient subject.
on 30 November 2014
This is the son of R. Reed here. At Primary School I found maths boring, pointless and uninteresting. This book is excellent for giving you the very basics of numbers, perfect as a first ever maths book of a future maths fan. Now in Year 9, I now enjoy maths lessons and am getting much better marks in my tests - all because this book stimulated my interest in the subject. It will not teach you about algebra or statistics, but it will give you the basics you need to eventually find maths enjoyable. This book can covert a very maths-anxious person into someone who finds maths interesting and, most importantly, fun.
on 11 January 2007
We were recommended this book for our son, who is gifted in maths and loves number problems and puzzles. I started reading it to him as a bedtime story a year or so ago and he would volunteer to go to bed just so we could get onto the next chapter! He's just finished re-reading it for himself and it remains a favourite.
It's quirky, introduces many mathematical concepts that I struggled to understand, and appeals to his sense of humour.
If you have a mathematically gifted young child, this book should have pride of place on his or her bookshelf.
on 20 April 2006
An outstanding book for adults and children who think they hate maths. Teachers of arts subjects will find this a good way of getting into the subject. A brilliant idea, well executed.
on 7 May 2011
My six year old who lives for maths loves this book. It has illustrations and would be great for a child who loves maths, or for a child who is less keen to get their imagination going. I think it is aimed at older children than my son, so don't let his age put you off. An older child would probably get more out of it and understand the story better.
on 4 September 2013
Number theory is an exciting area of math that many schools do not teach, or do not teach enough, because they focus on basic math skills. And, quite often, basic can mean boring, especially for students who have mastered those basic skills.
This book (and the game with the same title) presents such concepts as Fibonacci numbers, Pascal's triangle, natural numbers, infinite series, factorials, permutations, and other fun concepts in an interactive and engaging way.
I bought this book for my son, and we both reading it and learning (or reviewing, in my case!) a lot of these concepts. The only issue I had with this book (and the game) is that the authors make up some of their own terms instead of using the terms accepted by mathematicians.
There are not too many books or games that present math as fun and exciting, and this is one of them. If you have any interest in math (or would like to develop such interest in yourself or your kids), try it! You won't regret it.
on 8 June 2013
I liked the book, and it was very useful to use the book as teaching students fundamentals of mathematics.
However, there was some problem with the printing. There were some pages which seemed to be printed twice.
Please check the book before you send them.