Infinity and Me
By Kate Hosford; illus. by Gabi Swiatkowsksa
32 pages, for ages 5-10
Carolrhoda Books (Lerner), 2012
When Uma looks up into the night sky, she is awed by the
number of stars. Are there a million? A billion? Or infinity?
What is infinity anyway? That’s what author Kate Hosford
explores through Uma’s eyes. Infinity is huge – because no matter how high you
count, you can always add one. Uma thinks about writing that really really big
number down: “Even if I lived forever, I would never finish.”
Hosford offers a variety of ways to look at infinity: as a
family tree; using a cooked spaghetti noodle; as a measure of how much love Uma
has for her grandmother. This is the sort of book that would have had my kids cutting
strips of paper into ever smaller pieces until they ended up with “an infinity
of confetti” – or drawing infinite iterations of a Sierpinski triangle
So how does a nice country girl end up writing about
something as abstract and philosophical as infinity?
Kate: Large numbers are difficult not only for children to
conceptualize, but for adults as well. Isn’t this one of the problems with our
national debt? We just can’t imagine a number that big (note: $16 trillion and
growing) - if understanding these
numbers is difficult, how much harder is it to think about infinity?
Archimedes: But why infinity, as opposed to, say, a billion
or a trillion?
Kate: Infinity is a whole different animal – it’s an idea,
first and foremost. It can be applied to math, philosophy, science, and
religion. It can take the form of a never-ending number, but it can also be
used to conceptualize heaven or eternity.
When we attempt to actually think about infinity itself, we
cannot do it. The best we can hope for is to imagine what infinity might be
like: What would it be like to play a circular piece of music that continued
I also wanted to explore the way that infinity makes us
feel. At the end of the day, Uma grapples with this existential question that
we all must face; if something can be infinitely large, what does it say about
us and our place in the universe?
Archimedes: You must have done some sort of research for
Kate: The first thing
that I did was try to research existing picture books on this topic, and ended
up finding almost nothing. After writing a few rough drafts of the story, I began
interviewing children. I was completely bowled over by how they defined
infinity. For example:
- Infinity is a made-up number that is supposed to be the
last number, but it isn’t really the last number because numbers go on and on.
- Infinity is when you ask what’s outside of a galaxy, and
then outside of that, and on and on.
I did a good deal of reading on infinity, not only to
research the book but also for the curriculum guide
A lot of these things never made it into the book -
things like why we can have infinities of
different sizes or why the Hilbert’s Hotel paradox
but it became vital to me to understand as
much as I could about infinity.
[the Fractal Foundation’s Sierpinski triangle activities did make it into her curriculum.]
From conception to publication, I spent eight years on this
book. There were definitely times when my personal definition of infinity was
‘the amount of time it takes to sell a picture book on this topic.’
Archimedes: So where did the red shoes come from?
Kate: I wanted something that would ground the story – a small
concern to balance Uma’s larger concern with infinity. Shoes seemed to be the
perfect counterpoint. Red is my favorite color, and I have had multiple pairs
of red shoes over the years.
Archimedes: Uma cuts a cooked noodle in half and
then in half again and again. Have you ever done that?
Kate. Not with a noodle, but I have cut a piece of
string into bits.
Kate invites readers who want to share how they imagine
infinity to write to her at http://khosford.com/contact/
. Check out more STEM Friday resources here
. Review copy provided by Blue Slip Media.