EVERETT — As a kid he drew cartoons on his math papers.
Now he draws math in his cartoons.
What’s up with that?
“I Hate Math” is a new comic book by Ian Brown, 37, a third grade teacher at Challenger Elementary School. The last name is no coincidence: Ian is my son.
Coming up with the “I Hate Math” title was easy. Ian hears those three words 100 times a day, which is 500 times a week and 18,000 times a school year.
For many students, math is a disliked subject.
The book’s plot twist is that the teacher is the one who hates math. The students love it and can’t get enough of it, much to the chagrin of the hapless “Mr. Brown,” as Ian portrays himself in the book. Students come up with ways to make math fun, like using chicken nuggets to practice multiplication and saw-in-half magic tricks to make fractions.
There isn’t much humor about math in real life.
“I torture them with math every day,” Ian said.
Math was torture for him (and me) when he was in school.
“I absolutely hated math,” he said. “I was horrible at math.”
He is still scarred by an incident in third grade when I helped him with his homework.
“When I turned it in all the answers were wrong,” he said.
(I am trying to make up for it by writing this story.)
In middle school, a teacher scolded him for drawing cartoons on his math assignments and told him to stop.
Ian continued to draw cartoons on his math papers, and all his papers, through high school. He did a comic strip for his college newspaper. In his senior year, he didn’t have enough math credits to graduate, so he took Statistics 101 during his last semester. He aspired to get a D.
“I calculated that I needed to get a 74% on the final to pass the class. I got 70%,” he said.
He thought he was doomed but, to his surprise, he passed.
“I was so bad at math that I’d figured the math wrong,” he said.
After several years teaching English in Japan and Korea, Ian completed a state teaching certificate and was hired by the Mukilteo School District in 2016.
During the pandemic, when learning was remote, he started drawing cartoons to spice up his Zoom math lessons.
It didn’t make math fun, but it made it funny at times. That gave him the idea to do a comic book about math, which is one of his favorite subjects to teach.
“Because I was so bad at it, I understand the frustration,” he said.
He was granted a sabbatical from the Mukilteo School District to turn his idea into a book. The free time gave Ian, who has two young kids, time to research, write and illustrate “I Hate Math.”
The process was old-school. He mapped out the story on grid paper and with blue pencil sketched each page on 11-by-14-inch comic stock paper. He outlined the cartoons in India ink and a dip pen. These were scanned into a computer, using a digital pen to color and letter.
For inspiration, he reread his favorite comic strip, “Nancy,” an oldie about a precocious 8-year-old girl and her pal, Sluggo, drawn in a simple graphic style.
“I Hate Math” is 60 pages and divided into 10 chapters, with each based on a state learning standard.
“It is not meant to be a curriculum,” Ian said. “It’s an easy way to get into the lesson.”
The comic book format takes liberties beyond apples and oranges.
When the gray-haired gym teacher walks by, a student named Jaime does math: “3 ear hairs plus 2 nose hairs equals 5 old guy hairs.”
“The stories are partially inspired by funny events from my class that happened, but fanciful versions,” Ian said.
In the “Multiply” chapter, Jaime uses six chicken nuggets in his lunchbox to show number grouping. He doesn’t get them back because Mr. Brown eats them.
In a “Fractions” segment, Mr. Brown gets sawed up in the magic show trick. When put back together, his head is on backwards.
In the next chapter, Mr. Brown has to get an operation to get his head put on right. Mr. Geometry fills in as the cranky substitute teacher who turns the students’ heads into parallelogram and quadrilateral shapes. (Say what?!)
The school custodian turns fixing a ceiling tile into a lesson about “Area.”
Several copies of the book have been printed for use at Challenger.
“It is super-engaging with students,” third grade teacher Laurel Harrison said.
“A lot of kids like graphic novels and they like to draw. Seeing an author so close to them inspires them,” added teacher Kelsey Jinneman-Fairbanks.
There are other books out there about hating math.
“The I Hate Mathematics! Book” written in 1975 has gags and experiments “to change one from a mathematical weakling into a mathematical heavyweight,” according to an Amazon ad for the $23.75 paperback.
From June 14 to 18, “I Hate Math” is free to download on Amazon Kindle. After the promotion, it will be $8 on Amazon Kindle, but stay free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
So far, Ian has made 7 cents in royalties.
The final edition, which will add about 10 pages of extra content, is expected to be in print on demand by the end of the summer.
Ian sent the book to 25 publishers.
“I had five rejection letters and the rest nothing,” he said. “It’s like failing a math test all over again.”
Maybe he should ask his mom for help.