Ease kids’ math anxiety while entertaining them at bedtime? No problem, says Laura Overdeck, whose Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay Up Late sets out to do both. Due out this month from Feiwel and Friends, the book rounds up math problems for kids to tackle between story time and lights-out. James Paillot illustrated the book, which grew out a nightly ritual in Overdeck’s household – and her lifelong love of math.
“My husband, John, and I were both math people in college,” she explained. “He studied statistics, and I did astrophysics. When our oldest child turned two, we started doing math problems after her bedtime story – things like counting the noses and ears on her stuffed animals. That rolled into subtraction, and eventually into multiplication.” Two other offspring followed – Overdeck’s young mathematicians are now nine, seven, and four – and one evening, shortly after the youngest turned two, he requested his own math problem at bedtime.
“I was amazed, since he could barely talk,” said the author. “It was a bit of a wake-up call for me, since that was when we realized that math was kind of like dessert in our house. My husband and I started mentioning this odd bedtime habit to friends, and they told us we should write down the problems and share them. So we began e-mailing math problems to 10 or 12 people as a test group, and the size of that list doubled in a few days. Kids began bugging their parents for more math problems, and that’s when we knew we wanted to do this every day for the rest of our lives!”
Not long afterward, in February 2012, Overdeck founded the Bedtime Math Foundation, a nonprofit whose Web site has had more than 250,000 unique visitors. She set up a Facebook page and launched a daily e-mail newsletter that now has more than 30,000 subscribers. The foundation funds materials that include brief math videos and kits to encourage “fun-math” incentive programs at libraries and bookstores.
The Bedtime Math initiative soon caught the attention of the media and was featured, among other places, on NPR’s “Morning Edition” and in the New York Times. Not surprisingly, literary agents saw a potential book in the venture, and Overdeck signed on with Cathy Hemming of the Cathy D. Hemming Literary Agency, who negotiated a three-book deal with Feiwel and Friends publisher Jean Feiwel.
“The notion of using math riddles as bedtime stories seemed to hook people – it definitely hooked me,” Feiwel said. “Laura has a talent for coming up with math problems that are relevant and fun – even kind of zany. She provides a kind of therapy for people who’ve grown up with math fear and offers advice to parents about not inculcating children with a sense of intimidation about math. She is essentially saying, ‘Let’s think about numbers the way we think about words.’ She really believes in what she’s doing and is absolutely convincing and authentic.”
Overdeck is clearly committed to her goals. “So many people have latched onto this mission and that is really exciting,” she said. “But some of the e-mails I get are also a little heartbreaking, and make me realize the depth of the problem. So many parents shy away from math and don’t introduce their children to it before they start school. So kids’ first introduction to math is often through homework and tests – that’s a terrible way to introduce it. I’ll be delighted if we can set in motion a generation who embraces numbers – and begin an overhaul of how our schools embrace math.”
Feiwel and Friends will release Overdeck’s second book, tentatively titled Bedtime Math: This Time It’s Personal (compiling math problems centering on kids’ daily routines) in spring 2014, with a third installment the following spring.
To celebrate the launch of Bedtime Math, the publisher and the Bedtime Math Foundation are sponsoring the National Bedtime Math Pajama Party Week from June 24 to July 1. Seventy bookstores, libraries, and children’s museums are hosting parties during which kids will do math projects using kits designed by the Bedtime Math team.
“Math has such a bad name that we really have to tilt the scales the other way,” Overdeck said. “I’m really hoping that the book will be the icebreaker charging into the glacier and will let people know that this is a whole new world. Math is fun!”
Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay Up Late by Laura Overdeck, illus. by James Paillot. Feiwel and Friends, $14.99 June ISBN 978-1-250-03585-1