A Review of “Number Bugs” by Leon Spreyer

Arbor students were privileged to read an initial draft of Number Bugs by Leon Spreyer several years ago. Now that his book has been published, we are honored to offer a review of it. As the Director of Arbor School, I no longer have my own classroom, but I often lead reading groups at a variety of levels. In order to produce a credible review of Number Bugs I turned to a group of 4th graders and asked if they would join me in reading the book and writing about it. They were delighted to be asked.

The book is slim and could be read quickly, but we took a slow route through it, reading every word together — aloud — and stopping to explore the mathematical ideas that populate this story with such delicious frequency. The characters of the Number Bugs themselves, with their particular appetites for certain kinds of numbers, are “each different and charming,” say the students. ”Their names are creative, not like people’s names, and go with what they eat. The flavors of the numbers, like jalapeno & watermelon, are clever. Even the dialogue contains voices and ways of speaking that match the characters. Who needs articles or the missing words to understand what they are saying? The Number Bugs are religious about the numbers they can eat, and it is fun to know the tricks they use to decide what is edible.” The humanoids, from Archimedes to Pythagoras, are also interesting from an historical and a mathematical perspective. Whether or not you love math, you will take an instant liking to the cast of characters and their peculiarities. The students in my reading group became so attached to the characters that each took on the name of one of them. Eliana thoroughly enjoyed Erin Koehler’s illustrations and took it upon herself to copy the drawings and give each member of the group a rendering of the appropriate character for use on the cover of our reading folders. Eliana says that, “The characters are amazing, and even the bad ones are beautifully sculpted.”

We needed folders in order to contain all of the calculations and quotations we accumulated over the time of our reading. Hastin appreciated all the number concepts which the book explores: even/ odd, prime, Goldbach’s Conjecture, square, triangular, infinite, etc.. We have a detailed record of each of the rules, definitions, and elegant quotations we encountered in the course of our reading, whether it is the divisibility rule for 3, the definition of a perfect number, Eratosthene’s Sieve for finding prime numbers, or a fabulous definition of infinity — a room without a floor, walls, or a ceiling. Hayden writes, “I enjoyed the perfect numbers the most, and how Archie explained them on the leaf boat. I liked how we found all the factors to 496″ so we could prove it was a perfect number. Max also loved working with perfect numbers and spent a long time factoring 8096, the next perfect number after 496. Lucy loved the palindrome numbers and found out how many steps it takes to make a palindrome out of all the numbers between 1 and 100 — numbers 89 and 98 will surprise you!

In sum, the Arbor students think the book deserves a 5-star rating, and they think anyone would enjoy it. They cannot wait until the sequel comes out and look forward to reading it together to find the keys to more of the mathematical treasures with which Mr. Spreyer chooses to stock the book.

Kit Abel Hawkins, Director, Arbor School of Arts & Sciences