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Sandy Journal

High school seniors publish children’s book about math, give proceeds to support youth education

Oct 21, 2020 02:01PM ● By Julie Slama

Waterford School senior Tarun Martheswaran (on right) and his co-author Ashvin Kumar, wrote, illustrated and self-published, “The Number Monster” to help youngsters struggling with math. (Photo courtesy of Tarun Martheswaran)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Growing up interested in math, Waterford School senior Tarun Martheswaran didn’t have a dream to write a children’s book. 

However, when he noticed youth struggling with it as he tried to teach them, he decided a children’s book was a way to help them learn and he and his co-author, Ashvin Kumar, took it upon themselves to write “The Number Monster.”

What’s more is that after the book was published in late May, the two friends decided they didn’t want to keep the proceeds and instead earmarked them for children’s education. After being released to the public on Amazon, more than 100 copies were immediately sold and the money was split between two organizations: the Conscious Kid General Fund, which aims to destroy racial stereotypes and inequity in education around the United States, and UNICEF, which is sending educational supplies to support vulnerable children affected by COVID-19. 

“I knew the problems in the world are bigger than me,” Martheswaran said. “Millions of children around the world are impacted and overwhelmed by this world pandemic that they can’t control and now their education and their resources are being taken away.”

The two young authors also snagged first place in the school issues category for their self-published children’s book in the Purple Dragonfly Book Awards contest. The contest recognizes 57 different categories of children’s books and winners receive a seal on their books.

“We talked about how children are afraid to approach a subject and how they can ask their teacher for help,” said Martheswaran, who used his knowledge of when he teaches math, some children can’t relate to it and they begin to despise the subject as the basis for the book. “It doesn’t make any sense to them; they’re not embracing the numbers even though they may be extremely talented in other academic areas.” 

In the book, he decided to focus on second-grade when students typically learn two-digit addition and through reading the book, students will learn a strategy for the math step. They also will learn how to ask a teacher for help and understand that teaching may be a future career even if it doesn’t seem possible as they struggle now, he said.

“We wanted to inspire kids and give them something they can relate to. We wanted them to know that the teacher is there to help them,” Martheswaran said.

The book introduces diversity as the main character Raj (a common Indian-American name) fights stereotypes as “he is held up to expectations of his classmates at that early age,” he said.

The teacher in the book, Mrs. Woller, is named after Waterford’s very own Nancy Woller, who Martheswaran dedicated the book to as she impacted his life and those of other students. The actual Woller is Waterford’s math department chair who advises the school’s MathCounts chapter and involves students in math competitions.

“The book is dedicated to her, for what she means to me. I’m grateful and appreciative of her,” Martheswaran said.

Early on, Martheswaran knew that he would need to team up with his friend, Kumar, who had attended Waterford and lived in Sandy before his family moved to Boca Raton, Florida.

“He’s been involved in the writing process and design. He has the way with words. He’s just a very amazing writer and could convey our ideas creatively as my writing strategy is not optimal for children,” Martheswaran said.

While the idea for the book took hold in February, most of the writing took place in March and April, during the soft closure of schools. 

“We wrote several drafts and had family and friends read them and share them with children of the appropriate age to see if it kept their attention and got the message across. It was from one of those reviews that the idea to introduce problems came, so the book is interactive,” he said.

It was also during the spring when the two high school seniors took on learning Adobe Design. They took lessons and learned techniques from a graphic designer they met online to illustrate the book. 

“That was my first time learning graphic design,” Martheswaran said. “Formatting it was difficult as we had to have our images a certain quality and style; and then size it to fit the page.”

Both authors had a part in helping distribute the book to students. Kumar has more than 1,000 Boca Raton elementary school students using “The Number Monster,” while both are encouraging other local schools and libraries to add the book to their collections.

They also have been involved in the nonprofit Mission Math, which local high school students gifted in math help elementary and middle school students learn the fundamentals of math through tutoring and week-long camps. Martheswaran is the president and also is his school’s middle school math club coach.