Books of the Week: “The Math Inspectors” Series!
Jan 30, 2018 | By: Isabel Huff
"The Math Inspectors" Series
By Daniel Kenney and Emily Boever
A cute book about a group of four kids (Charlotte, Gertie, Felix, and Stanley) who use math concepts, including time, combinations, speed, and an understanding of taxes to solve a crime--an alleged robbery that ends in a lost diamond--in their town. The kids work together, finding clues and making calculations, and are refreshingly supportive of one another, trusting in each others hunches and encouraging each other to do their best as they gather evidence.
The book has illustrations in it which I sometimes found cute and other times found sort of creepy in style. There is one very brief but unnecessary discussion of weight--in a diner, Felix orders huge milkshakes and says he is trying to gain weight. Gertie then reaches “for her chubby cheeks” and says she’s annoyed with him, presumably because she wishes she could weigh less, eat more, or both.
Sometimes there are references (like to Rocky II) that kids might not get, but they don’t detract from the overall story. I very much appreciated that the story was enhanced by the kids’ math, instead of reading like a contrived tale created only to insert math.
The second book in the series follows the Math Inspectors as they investigate a series of mysterious vandalisms involving a criminal using blue spray paint to damage property owned by the rudest members of the neighborhood. After being accused of committing the crimes themselves, the Math Inspectors are even more determined to catch the culprit. They’re surprised to discover it’s [SPOILER ALERT] the new kid at school, Herman. When they realize it’s just because he’s having a tough time and is being bullied, they make him promise never to commit the crimes again and ask him to join their friend group. But for his last trick, the Math Inspectors ask Herman to dump paint on their enemy, Polly, head of the English Club.
There are still some minor things that I didn’t love about the book--Gertie tells Stanley he “screamed like a girl,” (a gender stereotype), the mean hot dog seller tells Gertie she’s “pudgy” (and the book later describes her legs as stubby), and the inspectors call the bully “the biggest psycho kid we know” (a negative term related to mental illness rather than just meanness). Also, the rivalry between the English Club and the Math Inspectors can sometimes be mean. However, these can create opportunities for discussion when reading these books--about ableism, sexism, body image, bullying etc.
The plot is engaging and the book introduces math concepts including the line of best fit and scatter plots, among others. Like the rest of the books in the series, the math is well-integrated into the story.
In the third installment in the series, the Math Inspectors (now including Herman) follow the trail of a secret “Grinch” who has stolen all of the toys from the local toy store on Christmas eve. This grinch has left behind a number of dead-ends and false trails to confuse the Inspectors, and they race against the clock to get the toys back before Christmas. The story moves along quickly and includes math concepts including speed and distance. As with the other stories there are a couple of references I wish weren’t there (one character uses the term “man up” and another makes fun of a character who supposedly works as an animal trapper and hunts with a bow and arrow, as if doing things in those traditional ways is funny). Overall, though, a fun read with great examples of the students working together.
At the opening of the annual Hamilton Carnival, a strange smiley face and the name “MacBeth” appear on the jumbo screen in the park. “MacBeth” introduces himself and says that he has strapped three bombs to the bottom of the famous old roller coaster. He says the Math Inspectors must go through a series of challenges to find the key and stop the bombs from detonating. As the police work on alternative ways to diffuse the bombs, the inspectors get to work. Each challenge, it turns out, requires the inspectors to face their worst fears. The characters support each other as they each rise to the occasion. In the end, it turns out [SPOILER] that MacBeth may be tied to crimes in the previous books, and is warning the students that they shouldn’t keep foiling MacBeth’s plans. The inspectors remain undaunted, however, and vow to keep fighting for good. This book weaves in math concepts including the golden ratio, and the ending left me wanting for the next installment! (release date TBA).