Zero the Hero is a math-lesson picture book that doesn’t feel anything like a lesson, because it actually tells a story. Author Joan Holub and illustrator Tom Lichtenheld (who clearly has a talent for this sort of thing, having also illustrated the similarly clever letter book E-mergency last year) make the titular digit a sympathetic outcast among the other numbers. At first he’s looked down upon because he has no effect whatsoever on addition and subtraction—and then he’s feared and cast out because he makes the other numbers disappear in multiplication.
But, as tends to happen in these sorts of stories, they soon find they miss the lovable donut-shaped guy—not just because he’s amiable, but also because they’ve completely lost the ability to do important things, like multiply themselves by 10, without him. And that’s before they’re taken prisoner by a group of suitably martial Roman numerals—at which point Zero comes to the rescue with an ability only he has. (I won’t spoil the, um, surprise.)
Golub weaves the math—basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and of course the key concept of zero itself—seamlessly into the storyline, and Lichtenheld’s whimsical, cartoon-y art draws kids right in. It’s one of those picture books our seven-year-old and our three-year-old like to read together. (And what’s more heart-warming than that, especially when the seven-year-old is reading it to the three-year-old?)
It’s become a particular favorite of the younger one, and while I can’t say how deeply the math lessons are penetrating his brain as he reads the book again and again, the exposure can’t hurt. Even at this age, a lesson that doesn’t feel like a lesson? Parental nirvana.
(Pre-order now, it releases on February 28)
Cover image courtesy of Henry Holt/Christy Ottaviano Books