Susan Troutt’s new book, The Math Problem, is packed with pluses. The author of Jake the Detective and four other books demonstrates her writing savvy and knowledge of kids in the classroom situation to good effect in this chapter book featuring Jake, a boy notable for unruly, stand-up hair and a strong determination to lick his problems.
The title is telling in this book, which begins when Jake is surprised to receive a failing grade in math on a report card that otherwise gives him all As and Bs. This means that instead of the good-report-card reward of an amusement park ride with Dad, Jake gets a math tutor. He fears she will be a scary figure but finds that the teen who arrives to teach him, Carla Laura Jones, is fun, easy to understand and inspiring.
In a well-paced and often high-spirited narrative, Troutt delivers a number of math-concepts-made-easy – and even a funky math rap – along with fun that sometimes gets out of hand and lands Jake in fixes with his (fortunately understanding) teacher and school principal. For instance, in his enthusiasm for finding items to illustrate the number three, Jake presents his teacher with a bouquet of three-leafed poison ivy.
Meanwhile, as Jake deals with the social dynamics typical in school, including a bratty know-it-all named Angela and another girl who has a crush on him, he inspires the whole class to see math as exciting.
Better illustrations for this lively story would make for a more professional volume. Troutt’s line drawings picture the action but lack skill and sophistication, in contrast with the cover art by 17-year-old Daniel Izzo that truly brings Jake to life and leaves readers wishing Izzo’s illustrations had been used throughout.
Even so, this romp of a read adds up to an excellent selection for middle readers and is recommended for use by elementary school math teachers.
Also available as an ebook.