Monday, August 1, 2016

Book Club Week 1 and Giveaway {Math and Magic in Wonderland}

Welcome to the Math and Magic in Wonderland Book Club!

Over the next eleven weeks, I'll be hosting a virtual book club based on my math adventure novel Math and Magic in Wonderland.

A copy of the book is all you need to get started on a grand adventure into the world of recreational mathematics (math as entertainment)!

Each week, we'll be playing with the math, language, and logic topics found in a single chapter. I'll be posting ideas for extension activities, videos demonstrating the concepts for the week, and additional resources. I'm really excited for the opportunity to share all the extra ideas that have been floating around my brain which I didn't have room to include in the book (as in Marco Polo's famous words: “I did not tell half of what I saw.”)

(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.  Thanks for supporting my blog!)

Play along with us!

For this to truly be a “book club”, not just a series of lesson plans, I need your help! As you play along with us, please share your own experiences. Let everyone know how your family is interacting with the book. Take a picture of a drawing or craft related to the story, post a video explaining how you solved one of the math problems in the book, or just leave a comment (on this blog or on Facebook) with your thoughts on the chapter.

Remember to use hashtag #MathAndMagicInWonderland on social media to share the fun your family is having with the book club.

Why only one chapter each week?

If you want to finish the entire book in one sitting, go for it! I wrote Math and Magic in wonderland as a Living Book with many layers that inspire readers to explore math, language, science, history, and more. The book club will focus on a single chapter each week so we can dig deeper into the topics and give ourselves the time to make connections between those concepts and the world around us.

A note about the videos

The videos that I will post every week will typically include me, along with one of my twin girls (who inspired the characters of Lulu and Elizabeth), discussing a topic from the current chapter. The videos can be viewed by parents to get ideas on how to help guide their children through solving a problem, or can be watched as a family. Please note that my twins are 7 years old, but "Math and Magic in Wonderland" is a book that can be enjoyed by children (and adults) of any age. I've heard educators comment that the target age for the book seems to be around 5th or 6th grade, so I definitely don't want older kids to watch the videos and get the impression that the book is only for younger children.

Let's get the party started! 

Remember that these ideas are meant to Inspire Not Require, so do as much or as little as you like. Don't forget to SHARE! Be sure to enter the giveaway (keep reading for the details).

Memorizing Pi

In Math and Magic in Wonderland, Lulu calms herself down by recalling the digits of Pi. Memorizing Pi is not a particularly useful math skill (although training your brain in memorization has many benefits), but it's actually a lot of fun. To help my own twins remember the first 30 digits of Pi, I made up this little song (to be sung to a military cadence or chanted):

The Pi Song 
Repeat after me and don't be shy
We'll recite the digits of pi 
All the numbers get in line
Reciting pi is really great
265 then 358 
It calms you down as you can see
979 and 323 
The digits don't end, there's always more
846 and 264 
I hope you liked this song of mine
3383 279 
So practice pi whenever you can
It's the neatest number in the land

I didn't want to impose my own method of memorizing on my kids since their brains seem to work in different ways. I had them repeat each verse of the song after me and then gave them ideas to help them remember, such as:

  • Write the numbers down (L wanted to do this)
  • Look at the numbers and make up a story (E preferred this method)
  • Find patterns in the subsets of numbers (Pi as a whole has no pattern)
  • Repeat the song over and over until you've got it memorized
My original plan was to teach the girls one verse of the song every night before bedtime for a week, but they were so excited about it that they kept asking for more. They ended up memorizing the entire "Pi Song" in two days. We sang it in the car. We sang it at the playground. We sang it waiting in line at the store. Soon the "Pi Song" was stuck in all of our heads!

Here's E singing the "Pi Song":

E was very self-conscious of her singing abilities, so if you enjoyed her video, be sure to comment and share it on social media.  I'd love for her to see how many people liked it!

Your Turn to Play: Get your entire family to learn the 'Pi Song"! Post your videos!

More about Pi: The book lets you explore what Pi really represents in a future chapter, but feel free to introduce the concept now. This is a fun book to use:


One neat thing about "Math and Magic in Wonderland" is that it is as much about language as it is about math. In the first chapter, the girls find a book called “Mrs. Magpie's Manual of Magic for Mathematical Minds” and Elizabeth makes a comment about the use of alliteration (when words that are close together all begin with the same sound).

Alliteration is especially fun because once you know what it is, you find it everywhere. I have a hard time getting through a read-aloud poem or story nowadays without getting interrupted by the kids yelling out “ALLITERATION!” whenever it occurs.

Here's L finding the alliteration in the poem "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll (which was a major source of inspiration for my novel):

Play Along!
  • Practice tongue twisters (great examples of alliteration).
  • Make up your own sentence using alliteration (leave your favorite creation as a comment on this blog).
  • I hid a sentence which uses alliteration in the first chapter of the book. Can you find it?
  • Memorize "Jabberwocky" (and post a video of your performance)
Can you believe there are so many books dedicated to alliteration?


“A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama!” What's special about this sentence, spoken by Lulu? Here's her explanation (and how to calculate the number of palindrome numbers with 3 digits):

Play Along!

How many words that are palindromes can you think of?

This page contains a huge collection of palindromes (and even some palindrome poems!) to have fun with:

Here's a neat method for making a palindrome out of any number (try some numbers with lots of digits for extra fun). As a bonus, I wrote the instructions as a computer algorithm, so follow the instructions to get a tiny taste of computer programming.

Step 1: Pick a random number 
Step 2: Is your number a palindrome? If YES, go to Step 5, if NO, go to Step 3 
Step 3: Reverse the number (123 becomes 321) and add it to your original number to get a new number 
Step 4: Go to Step 2 
Step 5: Congratulations! You've got a palindrome! Do a happy dance.

If you've had any experience in coding, write your own computer program where a person enters any number, and it gets turned into a palindrome using the technique above (hint: the hardest part is reversing the number, so you might want to have the user enter each digit in a separate textbox). 

If you're not familiar with coding, this would be a great week to learn more about it!

Mrs. Magpie's Age

Lulu and Elizabeth's first challenge was to determine Mrs. Magpie's age. L and I made a little video demonstrating how to solve the problem. My favorite part of the video is that we're using letters to represent numbers (algebra for 7-year-olds – gasp!)

Play Along!

Word problems where you have to calculate a person's age are usually taught in 8th-grade algebra class.  There are many ways to solve these types of problems, however, using logic or math (without formal algebra).
  • See if you can find some interesting things about the ages of the people in your family.  For example, in how many years will your age equal half of your mother's age?  
  • Make up your own age word problem.  Share it in the comments so we can all try to figure out the answer.

Your Age on Other Planets

E's favorite activity for Chapter 1 involved assembling and painting a model of our solar system to demonstrate how Mrs. Magpie's age would differ if she lived on different planets.  Here's her video:

The basic principle is that the Earth completes one rotation around the Sun in a year, but other planets take different lengths of time to orbit the Sun, so a “year” on another planet would be longer or shorter than an “Earth year”.

Here's the solar system model kit she used:

Play Along!

An explanation of how to calculate your age on other planets can be found there:

If you'd like to verify your calculations (or just play with this concept), here's another fun website that lets you enter the date of your birth and calculates your “age” on different planets:

Literature Connection

The books mentioned in the first chapter include:

Arthurian Legendsno specific book was mentioned, but here are the ones my family enjoyed (illustrated for younger children):

"Little Women" - a classic... definitely worth adding to your reading list!

"The Odyssey" -my family loved this children's version:

"Don Quixote"

The unabridged version may be too violent for children, but the book, especially the 'windmill story', is widely considered an important piece of literature and is referenced in books, art, and even popular culture. Don Quixote is also the source of the English word “quixotic”. To make sure that you don't miss the humor in Lulu and Elizabeth's statements, you can watch a “bedtime story” version of Don Quixote here: 

You can also read the "windmills" chapter here:

Poems to read or memorize

"Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll

"Leisure" by W. H. Davies

Questions to Investigate

Lulu and Elizabeth read many books and research topics they are curious about, so you'll find them sharing many interesting facts in the novel.  Use an internet search or books from your local library to find out more about some of the topics mentioned in the first chapter of "Math and Magic in Wonderland":
  • Did the ancient Celts really paint themselves blue for battle?
  • What is special about the Kaibab Squirrel?  
  • Is there really a mammal that can breathe through its skin?
  • What is the science behind an owl's ability to fly silently?

Be sure to leave a comment letting us know what you discovered!


To kick off the "Math and Magic in Wonderland" Book Club, I'll be giving away a math game to one lucky winner.  The winner will get to choose ONE of the games in this list (so the winner can pick a game that he/she don't already have and is age appropriate).  To enter, follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter.  The giveaway ends on August 19th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Full Book Club Schedule

Here is the Book Club / Math Circle schedule (you can join any time):

 Week of August 1st:
  • Book Club Kick-Off Party!
  • Read Chapter 1: Mrs. Magpie's Manual
  • Alliteration
  • Memorizing digits of Pi
  • Palindromes
  • Calculating your age on other planets
  • Read Chapter 2: Magic Square
  • Making tangrams
  • Acute, obtuse, and right angles
  • Magic squares
  • Adding consecutive numbers using Gauss's trick
  • Read Chapter 3: Secret Codes
  • Word permutations
  • Cartesian coordinates
  • Operations on odd and even numbers 
  • Read Chapter 4: Rabbit Trails
  • Drawing a perfect circle
  • Making a compass
  • Finding the center of a circle
  • Exploring Pi
  • Famous mathematicians who followed rabbit trails
  • Read Chapter 5: Two Worlds Join
  • Mobius strips
  • Fractals
  • Tessellations
  • Read Chapter 6: River Crossing
  • River Crossing Problems
  • Build a boat and explore buoyancy
  • Read Chapter 7: Seven Bridges
  • Seven Bridges of K√∂nigsberg problem
  • The power of exponents
  • Word ladders
  • Thales's method for calculating the height of an object
  • Read Chapter 8: Veracity
  • Truth-tellers and liars
  • Finding a fake coin using a balance scale
  • Archimedes buoyancy principle
  • Read Chapter 9: To Catch a Thief
  • John Napier's Rooster
  • Doubling pennies and calculating exponents
  • Towers of Hannoi
  • Read Chapter 10: The Vorpal Sword
  • Square numbers
  • Prime numbers
  • Fibonacci Sequence
  • Relativity and time dilation
  • Acrostic poems
  • Read Chapter 11: Two Great Powers
  • Book Club Finishing Party with Prizes!

    Thanks for joining us.  I can't wait to read your comments!


    1. I am so excited about this! We'll be pretty busy for the next two weeks, but will start our school year Aug 15 and will be able to catch up at that point. What a great way to start out the new year. Thank you!

    2. We are so excited to get started on this awesome adventure :) E and L did fantastic jobs in their videos. Two thumbs up!

    3. We started reading this book last week. We all love it so far! We are a little held up by needing to figure out how to make the tangrams, but we'll get there. :)
      We are really excited to find this site to go along with our study of the book.

    4. We are so excited to start this bookclub!

    5. This books is great! I am looking forward to sharing it with my kids after camp!

    6. I am so excited to explore this with my eight year old son. He loves math and I'm hoping this will open up even more avenues of exploration for him. Thanks!

    7. I can't wait to start using this amazing book with my 3 boys! They love "out-of-the-box" math stories and games. The book club looks great!

    8. Looks like fun! Can't wait to join in.

    9. We are so excited for this! And your daughter is such a good little singer.

    10. We finally got our book in the mail today and read the first chapter :) I love all the literary references and the sophisticated vocabulary. We've been having fun doing the activities this week.

    11. I just read the first chapter last night and really enjoyed all the vocabulary! I'm looking forward to starting the club activities next week!

    12. We had a great first week. We learned first 30 digits of pi, made up our own alliterations, found are ages on all the planets, played with palindromes and had awesome time. Thanks.

    13. Video of my son reciting pi

    14. This book looks amazing! I can't wait to get started. Now I have to decide if my son and I will do this together or if we will involve our math circle. I'm excited!

    15. I found this just in time! I'm getting the book (it was on the list already!) and we'll catch up with the rest of you :)

    16. Math and Magic in Wonderland looks great. I am excited to follow along with this book club. I am always looking for fun math activities to do with my kids.


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