Book review: Falling into “Funville Adventures”

When I was a freshman in high school, I had to take a semester of Economics.

I can’t say I was looking forward to it when it started. It seemed like a drag, and it was sure to involve the math I then hated, and I had already been tortured with algebra all first semester. But surprisingly, even shockingly, I wound up loving it, even getting an A.

A big part of the reason was the teacher, whose name I forget, shamefully, but she had an amazing approach to her subject. She didn’t lecture. Instead, she told stories. Or to be precise, she told one long story, a saga about a teenage boy named Harry, and a teenage girl named Harriet, and their often convoluted courtship.

There’s nothing quite like learning about market forces or Supply and Demand amidst the Sturm und Drang of teenage relationships and their expectations.

The experience made me appreciate teachers who take a creative approach to their subjects, particularly when those subjects are dreaded by their students. So, when Maria Droujkova, founder of Natural Math, asked me to review her organization’s newest literary offering, “Funville Adventures,” I said yes. Over the past few years, Droujkova and I have had a number of interesting conversations about math and how the mainstream maligns it and fears it. We share a mission to try to get people to be less freaked out by numbers.

But it’s not easy. In fact, for the older set (you know who you are), it may be impossible.

Happily, “Funville Adventures,” written by Sasha Fradkin and Allison Bishop, is aimed at children, and judging from the ages of the protagonists, at the elementary set. And yet, the concepts they present go beyond ones taught in elementary math to ones taught in high school math. But it’s done in such a way that it’s easy to understand. And the addendum explaining the various concepts should be helpful for any parents reading along.

The plot is fairly simple. Nine-year-old Emmy and her 5-year-old brother Leo go down a magical slide and wind up in Funville, a magical domain where every inhabitant they encounter has a power. For example, Harvey can halve things, while his brother Doug can double them. Rosalinda can rotate things, while Ida keeps things the same, even restoring a half-eaten ice cream sundae to the full portion.

As they explore this land, Emmy and Leo find out how these various powers affect everyday things, and even their bodies, finally going back home to tell their tale to their friends.

While I found the book and its illustrations charming, and a quick read, considering it’s more than 100 pages, I don’t recommend reading it in one sitting. There’s a surprising amount of math crammed in here, particularly intermediate algebra, and the ideas are better digested more slowly.

Would I have liked this book as an elementary schooler? I don’t know. But then again, I didn’t think I would enjoy economics as a high schooler. I’ve always been a fan of the creative approach, and “Funville Adventures” certainly qualifies.