Score: 76/100 (7.6 out of 10)
Marvin the Math Cat & the Mysterious Garden follows two cats, Marvin and Dusty, who feel overwhelmed and disheartened in their geometry class. In particular, Marvin wonders if math is even worth learning at all, even stating that it's not as important as reading & writing. Marvin is then given a series of cryptic messages, one of them issuing a challenge to them to build a patio garden with very parameters. They are given practical reasons for needing to follow these parameters including cost. Each centimeter of fencing will cost the cats something. With some ups and downs, twists and turns, the cats are able to wrestle their way out of this situation and ultimately solve the problem. Unfortunately, the ending does kind of leave a bit to be desired as it's one of those endings that creative writers tend to shy away from.
We really don't want to criticize this book. For one, the concept is brilliant. Educating kids about a subject like math via a fictitious story is a really appealing concept to us. Many of us have taught, coached, and/or tutored at various levels. Education is such a powerful thing. Sadly, as this book points out, many children don't see the value of their education or the practicality of what they learn in school.
The other thing we love about this book is that it features cats, one of our favorite pet animals.
So, the authors combine two things we love: education (math) and animals (cats). The issue really is the execution of this concept. The illustrations are incredibly rudimentary and simplistic, leaving a lot to be desired. The other thing is that it's incredibly wordy and complex, and most of it is crammed into less than 40 pages. Normally, you'd want your book or story to be brief and concise. This book is brief and concise in its number of pages, however, a lot of this book consists of mountains of text.
One thing you need to keep in mind with children who say they don't like math or have a mental “block” about committing time and energy to a subject. A lot of them don't have very long attention spans. In fact, it's the opposite: they have incredibly small attention spans. They struggle to focus on any one thing or on any one task for too long. If you make them sit down and read a dense, complex story about two cats trying to figure out a geometric problem, the likelihood is that they're going to lose interest or give up a quarter of the way through.
Now, with that said: this concept could be magnificent. With a little work, it could be a 93/100 or 94/100. It would take a rewrite in which the text is massively simplified and illustrations done by professionals. If those things were accomplished, this book would be amazing.
There's a quote in this book that we really loved and will probably consider it for our “Special Awards.” The quote is:
“Math is life, my dear cats,
I hope you now understand that.
The beauty is not just in your creation,
But in all things in our civilization:
The symmetry in your face,
Or, a leafy pattern that you trace.”
However, this does seem a little bit cheapened by the Mario Bros 2 ending combined with a really muddy and vague cliffhanger that implies a continuation to the series.
You can really tell from this quote and the content in general that these two authors are very passionate about math, education, and cats. It turns out that they're both educators and adopted two rescue cats. So these are excellent, fantastic, wonderful, smart people. We really want them to succeed. This book and this series will require a lot of work, but we are confident the authors can find some way to figure it out. Even our most prolific children's authors like Dawn Menge and Tuula Pere have published books that fell short of our high expectations. These are the best of the best and yet even they struggled at times. So it would not be a surprise to us if these two brilliant authors can muster up something great someday!
You can check out and support their work on Amazon!