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A Very Improbable Story
Edward Einhorn

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What are the odds?

Ethan wakes up one morning to find a very strange cat stuck on his head. The cat, Odds, refuses to budge until Ethan wins a game of probability. Without looking, Ethan must pick out a dime from his coin collection or two matching socks from his dresser, or do something else improbable. If he doesn't, Odds is there to stay, and Ethan has a 100% chance of missing his big soccer game.

A very improbable story about a challenging math concept.

Math Concepts:

  • Probability

Kirkus Reviews - January 15, 2008
The latest of Charlesbridge Math Adventures tackles the idea of probability. Ethan awakens one morning to find an unfamiliar cat named Odds on his head. Odds refuses to get off until Ethan wins a probability game. But that's not as easy as it sounds. Ethan fails to choose a dime from his bank, or to find two matching socks from his drawer of ten pairs. It is when his sister brings out the marbles that the true teaching moment begins. Ethan lays out color pairs to determine what the odds are of pulling out two white marbles from a bag of 100 of four equal colors. It isn't until breakfast that Ethan finally wins. By then, he has taken the lesson to heart and realizes that probability could help him win his upcoming soccer game. Gustavson's oil paintings highlight the improbability of Ethan's situation--his attempts to remove Odds, and failing that, to conceal him, will have readers in stiches. Each of Ethan and Odds facial expressions speaks volumes. Aside from its rather sluggish start, this is solid math that also teaches children about its applicability in the wider world.

School Library Journal - February 1, 2008
While waking up with a cat on your head is against the odds, waking up with a talking feline on your head (especially one obsessed with probability games) creates an impossible situation for Ethan. Odds won't move an inch, even through a hated shower, until Ethan wins a game of probability. Will Ethan beat Odds at his game before leaving for the big soccer game? Tension mounts as choosing socks, sorting marbles, or arranging bits of "Oatie-Woofs" breakfast cereal create a series of probability challenges before Ethan finally rids himself of the animal-just in time to figure out the odds of his best soccer scoring possibilities. With a final nod to probability masters Blaise Pascal and Pierre de Fermat, this slim volume introduces a math concept with a flourish of humor and embarrassing, talkative headgear. Full-page oil illustrations accentuate both the actions and expressions of Ethan's improbable morning as Odds the Cat dominates on his head or in shadow. A marvelous teaching tool and an entertaining story.

Booklist - February 1, 2008
This picture book for older children introduces the idea of probability using a funny, fantastical premise: A boy named Ethan wakes up with a talking cat on the top of his head. The cat informs Ethan that he'll get off his head if Ethan wins a game of probability. After cartwheels, jumping jacks, and a shower don't remove the cat, Ethan decides to play along. The two consider a variety of everyday household groupings--coins, socks, marbles, cereal shapes, and even soccer strategies--and eventually Ethan goes from haphazard guessing to a real sense of odds and outcomes. Einhorn moves this math lesson quickly along, spurring it with Ethan's oft-repeated need to get to his soccer game within the hour--and without the cat. Gustavson's appealing oil paintings, which depict Ethan and his little sister in all their befuddled wonder, match well with Einhorn's quirky text and premise. They are full of energy, odd angles, and offbeat perspectives, and kids will want to give them more than a passing glance. --Abby Nolan

Tandem Insights - February 2, 2008

It’s always nice to find high-quality titles with math themes. Math concepts can be taught not only with expository text but also through fun narratives. A Very Improbable Story is an example of a great math-themed picture book.

Publishers' Weekly - February 25, 2008

Einhorn's (Paradox in Oz) cut-to-the-chase style will have math enthusiasts rapidly engaging their skills to keep up with the fast-paced albeit strained dialogue.

The Children's Hour - August 1, 2008
What are the odds of awaking with a talking cat on one's head? One morning Ethan wakes up with Odds attached to his head, and apparently, the cat won't leave until Ethan wins a game of probability. With a soccer game imminent, Ethan tries everything to pull the cat off (cats do not like showers), but nothing works, until he agrees to pay Odds' game. Ethan tries many probability games: picking a penny from coins on a high shelf, (he picks a nickel), picking two matching socks without looking, (he loses), and picking two white marbles from a stack with his eyes closed (one was yellow). Finally, Ethan chooses two breakfast cereal shapes that are the same. Odds leaves and Ethan decides to apply the lesson to his soccer game. End papers give a history of two French mathematicians who developed the theory of mathematical probability in 1654. This is a very improbable story about a challenging math concept.



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