Tuesday, July 10

How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin?


by Margaret McNamara
illustrated by G. Brian Karas
S&W / Random House 2007

This book screams out "teacher book" and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Charlie's the smallest boy in Mr. Tiffen's class. Whenever they line up tallest to smallest he's always at the end.

Today when they came to class Mr. Tiffen had three pumpkins on a table at the front of the room. He asked his students to guess how many seeds were in each pumpkin. The tallest boy thought there must be a million. The self-assured girl in the class flatly stated that the middle pumpkin had exactly 500 seeds in it. Other guesses were made and then finally Mr. Tiffen asked Charlie if he had any suggestions. "All the best guesses have already been taken," he says.

The only thing left to do is to open them up, separate the seeds from the pulp, and come up with a way to count them. The following day the class divides itself into counting groups. The group counting the large pumpkin is going to put them into sets of twos. The middle pumpkin group is grouping by fives. Charlie all alone is counting the small pumpkin's seeds by groups of tens. As expected, the twos group has the most groupings, followed by the fives and tens, but when actual tallies are made it turns out that the small pumpkin held the most seeds of them all.

Of course, Mr. Tiffen knew what he was doing. He knew that the more lines on a pumpkin the more seeds it contained because the seeds formed on the inside along those lines. He also knew that the darker a pumpkin's skin determined how long it was on the vine, and darker fruit had more time to develop seeds. In this exercise the largest pumpkin was the lightest in color and had the fewest rib lines.

And for once when they were lined up to go out they went smallest to largest, with Charlie at the lead.

This breezy book has the perfect feel for a fall school day. The colors of the art and tone of the text work together to bring a palpable sense of those early fall school days when lessons take the shape of play. It's also a lesson in knocking down the arrogant and self-assured kids a peg which I almost could have done without. Yes, kids will brag that they got the biggest pumpkin and learn that size doesn't matter, but in telling the tale it reinforces the idea that the bullies are always tall and that size is an issue to be combined with science and math lessons.

I guess I assumed that schools stopped making kids line up according to height, if they ever did. Whatever.

It's a minor point, none of the issues surrounding Charlie's size are addressed outright and the assumptions made or implied don't get in the way. I was more impressed to learn about how color and lines effects the amount of seeds contained in a pumpkin and I'm wondering if that translates to other things as well, like the edges on English cucumbers or the number of sides on a banana.

A pretty keen lesson-plan-in-a-book.
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