a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Cat in Numberland (2006)
Ivar Ekeland (author) / John O'Brien (illustrator)
Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for children.

This picture book uses the idea of a hotel with infintely many rooms for introducing some advanced concepts about numbers and infinity to children. The hotel, run in the book by "Mr. and Mrs. Hilbert", was actually a metaphor attributed to the mathematician David Hilbert and has already appeared in other works of mathematical fiction for adults (see The Extraordinary Hotel... and Hilbert's Hotel). Here, in addition to the usual surprises about infinite sets, the young reader can be introduced to odd vs. even numbers, fractions, and the basic algebraic operations. Like the unrelated book Numberland by George Weinberg, most of the characters in the book are the positive integers themselves. The climax, which is well presented, is the one-to-one pairing of the set of fractions with the positive integers (which in the language of Georg Cantor proves that the rational numbers are a countable set).

Thanks to Paula Morrow for bringing this unusual children's book to my attention.

A review of this book was published in AMS Notices, Jan 2009.

Contributed by Amy Bassan

My elementary students love this book. The pictures and stories are a creative rendition of a very difficult mathematical concept. I reccomend it highly.

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Works Similar to The Cat in Numberland
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Hilbert's Hotel by Ian Stewart
  2. The Extraordinary Hotel or the Thousand and First Journey of Ion the Quiet by Stanislaw Lem
  3. The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics by Norton Juster
  4. Numberland by George Weinberg
  5. Lost in Lexicon: An Adventure in Words and Numbers by Pendred Noyce
  6. Thomas Gray: Philosopher Cat by Philip J. Davis
  7. Harvey Plotter and the Circle of Irrationality by Nathan Carter / Dan Kalman
  8. Math Curse by Jon Scieszka / Lane Smith (illustrator)
  9. Mathmakers by TV Ontario
  10. A Tangled Tale by Lewis Carroll
Ratings for The Cat in Numberland:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
5/5 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (2 votes)

GenreHumorous, Didactic, Children's Literature,
TopicInfinity, Algebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
MediumPicture Book,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)