## Thursday, August 8, 2013

### Book Review: How to Count Like a Martian, by Glory St.John

Once again, my work on the last bits of Playing With Math: Stories from Math Circles, Homeschoolers, and Passionate Teachers is getting me to write things that belong here.

Today I'm working on the Book Picks section, one of the resources you'll find at the back of the book. Much of it comes from what I've already written for the Math Books page of this blog. (You can see the tab for it above.) But there are some great books I hadn't written up yet.

Right now, I'm writing a description of How to Count Like a Martian, by Glory St. John. It's running too long for the Book Picks section, so I'm posting it here. I'll pare it down afterwards.

A really good way to understand place value is to work with other number bases. How to Count Like a Martian is a detective story in which the history of other number systems plays a starring role.

“Out of the depths of the dark and starry night come the first of the faint and mysterious sounds … At your radio telescope, you are expertly tuning the dials.” You have just received a message from Mars. “You know that this is not a message in words. Martians and Earthlings would have too much trouble trying to find the same words to succeed that way. But there is another kind of language that both Martians and Earthlings understand.”

Numbers… And so you research the number systems that have been used on Earth, hoping that will help you decipher this message. The book proceeds to explain eight different counting systems, including the abacus, and computers.

In the process, the concepts of place value (she just calls it place), base, and zero are explored. By the end of the book, you can see that the beeps and bee-beeps of the message you received are just the counting numbers, Martian style.

How to Count Like a Martian was written in 1975, when there were still dials and tape recorders. those two items may be the only evidence of its age. I wonder if any young kids will like it as much as I do. Please let me know if your kid loves this book.