Science Book a Day Interviews Deborah Heiligman


Special thanks to Deborah Heiligman for answering 5 questions about her recently featured book – The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos

I always loved to read and write. I loved school. I really did. I was good in all my subjects until high school when I started thinking I wasn’t good at math or science. Looking back, I realize I was better at both than I knew. I went to Brown University, and graduated in 1980 with a degree in religious studies. I write books for kids and teens. Many adults read my books, too. I got my start in writing at Moment Magazine in Boston. But I learned how to write for children at Scholastic News in New York. I’ve published 28 books so far, including my new one, INTENTIONS. – Adapted from Deb’s Homepage

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#1 – What was the impetus for this book?

As I divulge in the author’s note, I was not a math person by the time I had my own children. And yet my first son was born thinking about numbers! Math definitely skipped a generation on both sides (my husband, a science writer, is the son of a mathematician, and he is not a math person). But as Aaron grew up, I loved watching his love of math, and certainly encouraged it. He found out from his grandfather about Paul Erdos, and told me about him. I must admit I thought well, that’s interesting–to a math person. But then three years later, my younger son, Benjamin, who was always  good at math, but more of a humanities type, came home from school and told me all about this guy named Paul Erdos. Now I really paid attention. The more I read about Erdos, the more I loved him, and knew I had to write about him.

#2 – In portraying the life of the boy (and man) of Paul Erdos, what aspects of his life were you trying to portray? What is the ‘take-home message’ that you want your readers to leave the book with?

I don’t write a book to have a take-home message, BUT… my theme became (over many drafts) the story of how someone who didn’t fit into the world in a “regular” way figured out how to make a great life for himself. And I suppose if there is a take-home message it’s that we should all encourage and help people we know who are like Erdos, or who have their own special ways of looking at the world and being in the world, to celebrate that, and to make a life for themselves honoring who they are.

#3 – Mathematics itself plays a key part to Paul’s story. How did you decide what to put in and what to leave out of the book?

My editors encouraged me to keep the book young–picturebook age. So that limited what math I could put in the text. I talked to teachers and figured out what would be understandable both without help from an adult and with help from an adult. And then I asked my publisher to find an artist who would put a lot of math in the art.

#4 – The illustrations are bright and charming, with numbers interspersed throughout the story. How did the illustrations add to the story?

I think the illustrations add so much to the story. As I say above I asked for an illustrator who would put math–and the feeling of the joy of math–into the illustrations, and LeUyen Pham hit it out of the ballpark! There is so much math in the art–did you SEE her illustrator’s note, where she explains it all? Phenomenal. And she also went to Budapest so she could draw everything accurately and with the feeling of that city. I couldn’t be happier with the illustrations.

#5 – Are you working on a new project/book that you can tell us about?

I’m working on a few, but my main project is a book about Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo. This will be for YA readers, like my book Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith. On the side I’m thinking a lot about my next nonfiction picture book (I hope to do one about a woman mathematician or computer scientist, suggestions welcome!) and I have a novel on the back burner. Also there’s a fiction picture book about my dog nipping at my heels.

[Image Credit: ]


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