Annika Riz, Math Whiz
Illustrated by Rob Shepperson (Margaret Ferguson Books/FSG 2014)
Junior Library Guild selection
How I Came to Write This Book:
Once I decided to turn Kelsey Green, Reading Queen into the launch title for a new series, Franklin School Friends, I needed to write a book for each of Kelsey’s two best friends: Annika, who loves math, and Izzy, who loves running. Alas, although I have always been a reading queen myself, I have not been a math whiz or a running star. Luckily, my sister, Cheryl, is a math whiz, so she became the inspiration as I probed deeper to develop Annika’s character as star of her own story. Cheryl taught me how to solve Sudoku puzzles – and I promptly became addicted. They’re fun! I do have a little dog named Tank living in my house these days, but I haven’t yet tried to teach him to count…
Curriculum Guide for Franklin School Friends Books
Annika and her friends each have their own special talents, and Annika’s is math. She looks forward to math class the way Kelsey loves reading and Izzy loves running. But while Annika likes reading and physical exercise, her buddies hate math. When others in the class do not know an answer or are daydreaming, Annika side-whispers the answer to help them out of a bind. Annika and fellow third-grade math whiz Simon are excited to learn that the library is running a sudoku contest, and Annika sets out to practice as much as she can. Mills keeps the situations light and amusing, inviting readers into Annika’s number-filled house, where the tablecloth is printed with numbers and the magnets on the refrigerator are numbers and even the dog is named Prime, and introducing them to Mr. Boone, the overenthusiastic principal who takes a seat in the carnival dunking booth. Shepperson’s black-and-white drawings extend the text nicely; kids will chuckle at the kitchen chaos as the girls make cookies for the bake sale and at the interruption-hating Mrs. Molina as she tries to control math class. Math lessons are embedded gracefully into the plot, making it an easy tie-in for teachers looking for accessible real-world math problems. For number lovers and phobics alike—this bighearted series has something for everyone.
Mills has developed characters who are realistically flawed and friendships that are supportive throughout. She does an excellent job of demonstrating why Annika’s cheating is problematic without any heavy-handed moralizing. The occasional illustrations are perfectly paced and a nice supplement to the text.
As usual, Mills delivers with a felicitous blend of breezy accessibility and perceptive understanding.
As always, Mills has her characters struggle with right and wrong behavior, and here Annika accepts that everyone is different and that sometimes simply trying is a worthwhile endeavor.