Saturday, January 25, 2014

Manga Math Mysteries #3: The Secret Ghost

The Secret Ghost is the third in a series of eight books from the Graphic Universe press of Lerner Publishing. These books are aimed at teaching elementary students mathematics concepts via comic stories. I think the series title is catchy with its alliteration, but the comics nerd in me wants to quibble about these books being called manga because they aren't from Japan, don't read right to left, and they are not the typical size of manga. Still, I think the book is pretty good for what it is, basically a short comics textbook.

The main story, about a boy and his sister figuring out the source of a strange noise coming from behind a wall is pretty negligible, and the way that they get to the solution by measuring walls and doing some basic perimeter calculations is more didactic than entertaining. In the space of the narrative a short folktale is used as a teachable moment in the middle of the book, and the main problem is forecasted early on in a task from karate class. 

Despite the shortcomings of the plot, there are features about the art and characters I like. The cast is  multicultural and diverse without either characteristic being distracting, and the best part of the book for me was the matter of fact way the characters interact, gently tease each other, and go about their days. They might look cute and somewhat generic, but they are pretty likable and relatable, too.

A lot of the appeal has to do with the character designs and Yuko Ota's art. She has drawn comics for a variety of companies and websites and is best known for her work on the webcomic Johnny Wander. The story was written by Melinda Thielbar, a co-founder and organizer of Research Triangle Analyst, mathematics educator, and author of the other books in the MMM series.

This book has been generally praised, though the reviews I have read admit it has its limitations. The Graphic Classroom's Chris Wilson wrote about this book and series, "I would never attempt to con kids into using these titles to promote a love of reading, unless the child is a serious math enthusiast," but he went on to say that they would most likely be engaging teaching demonstration materials. Johanna Draper Carlson liked this volume most out of the series she read, stating "Not only is this educational without talking down to kids, it’s pretty entertaining."

There are a preview, links to standards, and more here from the publisher.

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