Friday, January 27, 2012
Books (and Authors) We Love: “Honest Abe’s Funny Money Book” by Jack Silbert
Book Review and Author Interview by Maggie Hames
Our frequent contributor Jack Silbert (reviewer of Joyful Noise, War Horse, and many other pieces) has just written a new book, Honest Abe’s Funny Money Book, and if you’re already a fan of Silbert’s work, you won’t be surprised to hear that it’s very funny and very informative. Jack’s one of those rare birds who really makes learning fun.
Honest Abe’s Funny Money Book explains—through the voice of Abe Lincoln himself—the why and how of each piece of currency, from the penny to the hundred-dollar bill. Each page features money jokes, such as “What did the dollar bill say to the four quarters? I can change!” Readers get history and practical ideas for money management. For instance, you can keep track of how much your lemonade stand makes, just remember to deduct for expenses! And Jim Paillot’s witty illustrations hit just the right humorous tone, modern and light-hearted, in synch with Silbert’s prose.
As the former editor of Scholastic’s Math Magazine, Jack’s book, Math Mysteries for grades 3-5 is top-drawer. It presents math problems as engaging stories with activity pages that teach and reinforce key problem-solving strategies, like estimating and working backwards. I think parents would enjoy using these books with their kids. Kids will look forward to homework time.
American History Comic Books for grades 4-6 presents time traveler Scooter McGinty as he meets the Pilgrims of Plymouth, Benjamin Franklin, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Henry Ford (among others). With twelve reproducible comic books with activities, this is sure to get kids excited about key events and people in American History. Short quizzes at the end of each comic reinforce important facts. Jack co-wrote this title with Joseph D’Agnese, who you’ll remember from our review of his own wonderful children’s title, Blockhead: The Story of Fibonacci.
I asked Jack a few questions about writing for kids:
Media Darlings: Which came first, a love of math or your work at Math Magazine?
Jack Silbert: I excelled in math almost all the way through high school, but it was never a favorite. In college, my major (creative writing) was one of very few that didn’t require a math class. Then when I got a summer internship at Scholastic after my junior year, I was assigned to the math magazines and realized that the math magazines were a lot more fun than the magazines for other subjects. They had to be, because so many kids turn away from math during middle school. I was pleased that there was so much humor in the math magazines, because that’s what I’ve always enjoyed writing.
MD: Did Scholastic help you hone your comic voice?
JS: It did make me a stronger writer and editor. It provided me genuine experience with a philosophy I was already considering: the challenge of shorter formats. Could you say as much in a short story as you could in a novel? Could you say as much in a poem? I used to joke that I just wanted to write the perfect sentence. Though perhaps I was having premonitions of the Twitter era!
MD: What’s the best way for parents and teachers to make learning fun?
JS: I’m a committed believer in real-life connections—show where the topic turns up in an area the child is already interested in. It could be a news story, technology, sports, music, movies, shopping, careers—anything. Answer that eternal “When will I ever use this again?” question. And of course humor always helps. It’s that spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down—though, now that I think of it, that’s not really very sound medical advice.
JS: Repeats of The Monkees really captured my imagination. Those guys were silly, they’d break the fourth wall, and were a bit rebellious. I think the show really prepped me for later absurd comedy I’d enjoy, like Monty Python.
MD: What fictional character would you like to be?
JS: Holden Caulfield. I remember reading Catcher in the Rye on a train, coming back from college for winter break. And he was just the coolest guy ever. Well, after the Fonz.
MD: What was the first book you remember really loving?
JS: When books were really becoming a big part of my life, I liked protagonists who were clever boys solving problems. And usually in series form. I think The Hardy Boys gave way to the somewhat edgier Encyclopedia Brown and The Great Brain.
MD: Do you remember being read to as a child? Do you have a favorite book from that era?
JS: I have vague memories of being read to and also of my dad smoking, but I don’t think they were simultaneous. Cat in the Hat and other Dr. Seuss titles were early faves.
JS: From a cartoon, the early, black-and-white, genuinely insane Daffy Duck (much more than his angry, flustered, world-is-against-me later incarnation); from live action, The Fonz.
MD: What’s your favorite smart phone/iPad app?
JS: MLB At-Bat. For $15 you can listen to home or away radio broadcasts of every baseball game all season long. How cool is that?
MD: Which famous fictional character’s motto or iconic line do you wish you came up with?
JS: Tom Joad’s big Grapes of Wrath speech: “Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there ....” I actually carry those first couple of lines around with me in my wallet.