Mystery Math: A First Book of Algebra
written by David A. Adler; illustrated by Edward Miller
2011 (Holiday House)
Source: Orange County Public Library
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David A. Adler and Edward Miller have done it again! Last year they created the terrific Time Zones which translated a complex subject into a fun read. As if that wasn't difficult enough, this dynamic duo is now tackling algebra in Mystery Math. A haunted house is the perfect setting for a subject that strikes fear in the hearts of millions. Adler starts the book by comparing equations to seesaws. Both need to be balanced in order to work. Simple equations (e.g. 6 + 2 = 8) combined with spooky owls on tree branches illustrate this idea of balance. Next, the mystery number is introduced. Adler explains that variables get their name because they vary from one equation to the next. A simple rule is given to help deal with variables: Whatever is done to one side of the equal sign must be done to the other side. Finally, readers are guided on how to solve for variables in each of the four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). In each section, guides Mandy and Billy and caretaker Igor present the operation in the form of an algebraic word problem. The problem is broken down so the reader can see how to find the value of the variable. A nice finishing touch is a piece of procedural text in the back matter that shows you how to build a balance scale that can be used to find unknown numbers in equations.
Mystery Math would be a great introduction for elementary students who are beginning to learn about algebra. Students could write their own word problems to match the setting of the book and share these for homework.