Meet Grace Lin
If you want to teach young children about math in the most developmentally and culturally appropriate way, the Storytelling Math Book Set is for you!
Grace Lin kindly shared her inspirations for these stories in a written interview she completed for Becker’s! We’re pleased to share it with you.
BECKERS: Most teachers are very good at pointing out the name of the author and illustrator on the cover of the book before they do a read aloud. If a teacher wanted to tell their young students more about you and why you wrote this book, what would they say?
GRACE LIN: I think it would be fun to point out that there is only one name on the cover, that a person can write the words and draw the pictures for a book—so that is something they can think about as well. Then I would point out the Storytelling Math logo and say, “This means that Grace Lin wants to tell you a story AND about math. She seems to like to do more than one thing at a time, doesn’t she?”
BECKER'S: Are the characters based on real children? What would you like the readers to know about these children?
GL: Yes, the characters are based on real children. Mei is based on my own daughter when she was around 3 years old and Olivia and Manny are based on her friends. I took photos of all of them as references for the book. Unfortunately, her friends were a bit older than 3 when I photographed them so I had to creatively age them younger in my paintings.
BECKER'S: Tell us how the Storytelling Math Book Set came to be. What makes these books different from other math concept picture books?
GL: When my daughter was born eight years ago, I was pretty frustrated with board books. I found very few starring babies of color, and most were part of the Global Fund for Children series. Those, however lovely, still gave the impression that non-white babies were slightly “exotic” and not commonplace in mainstream America. So, that planted a deep seed in me to create a board book that showed babies or toddlers of color doing ordinary, everyday things.
A few years later, during a conference, I saw the Baby Loves Science series at the Charlesbridge booth. I was extremely excited and told senior editor Alyssa Mito Pusey about how I had been wanting to make similar books. We brainstormed a couple ideas but nothing seemed right.
A year or so later, Alyssa contacted me because Charlesbridge was teaming up with TERC to create a Storytelling Math series.
“Would you be interested in making math board books?” she asked.
“Math?” I hesitated. “Like numbers?”
“No, we want to show that math is more than numbers.”
That was different from what I had imagined as well as all the other math concept book I knew, so I was intrigued. But then she said,
“We want to show that math is ordinary and just a part of our everyday lives.”
And when she said that, I realized that their ambition perfectly aligned with what I wanted to do with diversity in board books. So it was a perfect match!
BECKER'S: Did you like math as a young child? Were you excited or intimidated about teaching math concepts to young children through your stories?
GL: I was not good at math, but I admit I did not try. My older sister excelled at math and the “Asians are good at math” stereotype caused me to rebel against the subject when I was younger. When I grew older, that willful ignorance made me feel rather intimidated. However, watching my young daughter (who has neither hang-up) have fun with math has really made me want to encourage her, and it has forced me to get over my fear and embrace math with less trepidation. I hope these books plant the seed that math is interesting, enjoyable, and for everyone at an early age...I probably needed them!
BECKER'S: Teachers talk a lot about the importance of cooperation and collaboration in their classrooms. Can you tell us how you worked together with TERC and the publisher, Charlesbridge for this project?
GL: I think the biggest challenge was to get out of the mind frame that “math is numbers.” I kept thinking it had to be kids counting, but after many talks with Marlene Kliman, a senior scientist and math specialist at TERC, she really opened my eyes to how we use math without even knowing it — sorting, sharing, comparing, finding, waiting. Once I realized that, a world of potential stories opened up, and the harder thing became choosing what to write about. I was lucky to have Marlene and Alyssa helping to make sure the terms I used were most useful concerning the math (do I use “ball” or “sphere?”) and I was also lucky that I was pretty well-versed in board books from reading with my own daughter.
BECKER'S: In early education classrooms, we focus on Community Helper jobs when we talk about career choices. There are books, dramatic play dress ups, and puzzles featuring police, firefighters, doctors, etc. What can teachers do in their classrooms to excite children about becoming an author or illustrator?
GL: That’s interesting because the author/illustrator life looks very boring from the outside. It’s a lot of being by oneself and looking out the window. But it’s quite exciting on the inside—whole worlds, passionate characters and thrilling events are being created in your head! I would tell kids that being an author or illustrator is like making movies in your mind and getting to put them on paper. However, I admit the costume would be anticlimactic—one would just wear pajamas while clutching a notebook.
BECKER'S: Are there plans to add additional titles to the board book series? Will these books be offered in other languages, aside from Spanish?
GL: I’m not sure if the books will be offered in other languages other than Spanish, but I hope so! We are working on ideas for another 4 book set now. Stay tuned for more details when we have them.
BECKER'S: Do you have any additional tips for educators on how best to use these books?
GL: I would definitely use all the great resources Charlesbridge Publishing have made available as well as those included in the last pages of the book. The only thing I would suggest is that perhaps educators could keep their ears open for comments about diversity and not shy away from it even if it is not directly related to the lesson. It’s wonderful that books such as StoryTelling Math mirror the people in our world as well teach math skills because it can also be an opportunity to dispel racial stereotypes on who math—and everything we learn about, for that matter-- is for.
Rapid Fire Fun Questions
What time of day do you write?
Always early morning for at least 10-30 minutes a day and then whenever I can fit it in during the day.
What do you wear when you write?
Pajamas in the morning and whatever I am wearing that day (t-shirt or big comfy sweater and jeans or lounge pants) for the other times.
Where do you sit?
I have a green sofa that we bought in a yard sale which we got reupholstered in my studio. I sit there most of the time.
Do you have a snack or beverage of choice when you’re working?
Tea and candied ginger!
Please visit the author's website gracelin.com for more info!