Behind the Scenes: “Letting Math Tell the Story” by Ann Marie Stephens

As an educator, I’ve always favored engaging stories that support curricular areas. So, math stories? YES! A series with chickens AND math? FUN! And math illustrated by the phenomenal Jenn Harney who did “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses? OH, YEAH! Thanks to author Ann Marie Stephens for sharing a bit from “behind the scenes” of her two math series from Astra Young Readers. 

Ann Marie is offering a giveaway! Your choice of the titles appearing below! Just leave a comment for a chance to win.

Congratulations to Teresa Robeson! You’ve won TU YOUYOU’S DISCOVERY by Songju Mae Daemicke!

C32C8514-C19F-4015-BEBD-BCE3E279DB77Letting Math Tell the Story by Ann Marie Stephens

Years ago, I created a hallway display of addition problems with my first-grade students. It was springtime so we combined our equations with paper chicks. I titled our work “Arithmetic Chicks.” The title was catchy and I thought it would make a great book, so I jotted it down in my idea journal. Years later, chick characters started talking to me or rather cheeping at me, and the idea morphed into two books, ARITHMECHICKS ADD UP and ARITHMECHICKS TAKE AWAY. 10 chicks in the coop, count their chatty beaks. These chicks can’t get enough computation.

Arithmechicks were not my first picture books but they were my first books about math. Confession: I’ve never really liked math. Even as an elementary student I didn’t find it as entertaining as the other subjects. However, I was good at it, until I wasn’t, which coincided with the introduction to Algebra and Calculus. I struggled to see their purpose therefore I failed to understand or enjoy the material. Fast forward to present and I’ll be amassing a total of 11 math-related picture books in my near future. There will be four more Arithmechick stories and four more books in the CATastrophe! series. The irony is not lost on me.

I’ve found a way to make math relevant and relatable to kids. Ultimately, I’m trying to give kids what I didn’t have. I sure could have benefitted from a funny, animated book to get me through Algebra 2. I’ve been an elementary teacher for over 30 years. In that time, I’ve discovered that kids need multiple ways to approach and view mathematical concepts. The Arithmechicks share numerous strategies for solving equations, plus Jia Liu’s illustrations provide strong visuals for right brained readers. The backmatter in both books contains information to give clarity and encourage interaction. Writing the backmatter is always my least favorite part, as it triggers my feelings on the sometimes inflexible nature of math.

fullsizeoutput_1937CATastrophe! tells the tail (see how I did that?) of kitties who just want to have fun landing their dinner. If you ask them, these furry mavericks would say they are overly qualified to catch a couple of fish. Their strategy? Patterns! Row, row, meow, row, row, meow… only it’s not that simple. They forget pattern cores and are a bit overzealous in their techniques, and did I mention the fish are clever? Most of the action in the story happens in patterns. When the cats mess up the patterns, things go wrong. When they follow the cores, they have success, even if it’s not exactly what they planned. Fortunately, Captain Cat is there to help them recalculate when they get off course. But isn’t this how life or math often goes? We jump into something with all the confidence in the world. Then we find ourselves doing the doggie-paddle (or is it the kitty kick?) trying to stay afloat. As an author and teacher, I embrace the mistakes and learn from them. Just like my cat characters, when my canoe tips over, I drag my tail back to shore and eat s’mores by the campfire. Tomorrow is always a good day to cast my line again.

Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win one of Ann Marie’s books! (US addresses only, please)


Ann Marie Stephens is the author of numerous picture books including Scuba Dog, Cy Makes a FriendArithmechicks Add UpArithmechicks Take Away, CATastrophe! and forthcoming titles in both the Arithmechicks and CATastrophe! seriesShe is an award-winning elementary teacher and mentor with over 30 years of classroom experience. Ann Marie has received several grants for her inventive literacy projects and has taught dozens of original education-based workshops. She was a contributing writer for Kwame Alexander’s The Write Thing, and a co-writer for Scholastic’s Trait Crate Plus. Represented by Emily Mitchell at Wernick and Pratt Agency, Ann Marie is a seasoned presenter for both children and adults. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she’s off scuba diving somewhere tropical. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @AMStephens_ and on Facebook, Ann Marie Stephens (AMStephensAuthor).

16 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes: “Letting Math Tell the Story” by Ann Marie Stephens

  1. As a writer and teacher at a STEAM school, I absolutely LOVE books that integrate math and math concepts in inventive and imaginative ways. What a treasure! Thank you Ann Marie. Thank you Beth for this wonderful feature!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a former engineer, I love math storybooks and can’t wait to read Ann’s books. Thank you, Beth and Ann, for the wonderful interview.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wish there were books like yours when I was a child. Maybe I would have enjoyed math more — I disliked math! I think it’s wonderful how you are making math fun for kids in your STEM books. Your titles are clever and engaging, too. Loved the interview.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a fun way to teach math concepts! I wish I’d had books like this when I was in school and when I was teaching. The titles are catchy and the illustrations are adorable. Great interview!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I loved Catastrophe! I especially like your comment – applicable to all parts of life – “when my canoe tips over, I drag my tail back to shore and eat s’mores by the campfire.” Thanks for creating these books for all the others who wish math could be fun!

    Liked by 1 person

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