Saturday, 8 September 2012

Al Fresco at Tony's

Rob and Clive were absent for this meeting of the SVA due to other engagements, so there were only the four of us. Remarkably in this vile summer the evening happened to be quite pleasant so we accepted Tony's invitation to hold the meeting in the garden.

We exchanged news over the usual cups of tea and chocolate biscuits. Tony has been on a short holiday to the Peak District. Always one with an eye for an opportunity to earn some extra cash from his writing, he sent a review of the hotel to Lonely Planet magazine, which apparently pays contributors handsomely. Annie has suffered an injury to her leg by running backwards in long grass in flip-flops while trying to fly a kite - we've all done it. Linda and I reported that we spent a week camping with friends on the Long Mynd and it rained almost continuously. We went home a day earlier than planned.

Annie read the first chapter of her book, which hasn't yet got a title. It is a book written for children. The ambitious idea is that it combines a fictional story for entertainment with a mathematics text book for instruction. We all felt that it was a great idea but we were a little unconvinced about the execution at this very early stage.

Tony felt that it was engaging, insightful and had flashes of humour, but outlined some areas of concern. He felt that a balance would have to be struck between pleasure and instruction and was concerned that some of the vocabulary was a little difficult for the age group at which the book was directed. Stretching children's vocabulary by introducing the odd word that might be new to them is all very well, but it can't be allowed to spoil the entertainment. He suggested that writing a blurb for the back cover might help Annie get a feeling for the correct tone or pitch of the book.

Linda expressed concern that the story wasn't one that most kids would want to read because the main characters were too, well, nerdy. They needed to be more cool. A book directed at real children needs to be about real children. Like Tony, she felt that words like 'conundrum', 'conceit', 'prowess' and 'scribe' might not be understood by ten-year-olds. However she did like the idea of the book.

I felt that the idea was a little like Sophie's World, a bestselling book by Jostein Gaarder directed at teenagers. Sophie's World combines a fictional story about a schoolgirl with a text about philosophy - the idea to entertain and instruct. I think that with any such endeavour, the balance between fiction and text book, entertainment and instruction is crucial and must be very difficult to bring off. I suppose the idea is ultimately to make mathematics fun - and if Annie can succeed in doing that she'll have her own bestseller.

It certainly provided us with plenty of food for thought. There was no early finish, despite the reduced attendance, and it was getting dark when we finally adjourned the meeting at the usual time of around 9.30 pm.

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