Author Spotlight: Lucy Ravitch, The Pancake Menu

By Damaris | Added Feb 11, 2016

Author and educator Lucy Ravitch is on a mission: to make learning math as much fun and hands-on as possible! We're super excited about her book, The Pancake Menu, and love the way she makes math concepts come alive by way of clever rhymes, delightful illustrations... and some of the most creatively awesome pancake recipes we’ve ever seen! An all-in-one cookbook and interactive math activity play set, The Pancake Menu provides many opportunities to “math” with your kids! Young learners (and their designated grown ups) can get together to make crazy fabulous pancakes—and then head over to Lucy’s website, KidsMenuBooks.com, to download Menu Money and order sheets, and flex their math muscles by playing restaurant.

We collaborated with Lucy on our Pancake Day Word Problem Giveaway launched this past Tuesday—solve our pancakey word problem and submit your answer to ilovemath@mathnasium.com by Tuesday, February 16. One lucky winner will receive an autographed copy of The Pancake Menu!

Lucy sat down with us for an informative Q&A session—read on to learn more about her!

It's really apparent from reading The Pancake Menu that you love math and are passionate about making math concepts more accessible to kids and inspiring them to embrace the subject! What was your relationship with math like when you were younger, and how did that evolve over time? 

When I was three and four years old, I begged to go to school and have homework like my four older siblings! My mom taught me simple math concepts at home and I remember I loved to count and noticed shapes everywhere I went. Before I started kindergarten, I already loved to add and subtract, especially in real life situations—for example, when we bought doughnuts, I knew after we bought a dozen and my mom and I ate one each we still had 10 left for the rest of the family!

On her 11th birthday, Lucy baked her own birthday cake!

Above: A fan of math and cooking from an early age, on her 11th birthday, Lucy took the initiative to bake her own birthday cake from scratch!

My first grade teacher was a great inspiration. She had a fractions bar chart in the classroom that I was always drawn to. I always loved geometrical shapes and designs too! Throughout school, I excelled in math and started tutoring others in fourth grade. In high school, I attended a math/science magnet program and completed all math classes, including Calculus.

Many young learners really, really don't like math. What would you say to these kids to inspire appreciation for the subject?

I know you may get answers to math problems "wrong" and feel bad. You might say you are not good in math, but I encourage you to explore numbers and be curious, notice all the shapes around and ask questions! Make charts, compare things, and measure and create things—by doing so, you can see and have fun with math everywhere!

In your opinion, how can parents best support their kids in terms of fostering positive attitudes and enthusiasm about math? 

In order to support your child, please encourage learning—all learning! Encourage creativity and wondering. Talk aloud about the things you wonder about (“I wonder how long it will take to get home?”) and follow up with what that entails (“Home is 2 miles away and it's 2:43 now, and there’s a little bit of traffic...”).

While math seems to be a subject where “there's only one right answer,” you can share with your kids that there are many different ways to solve a lot of problems!  Have fun with math—approach it like you’re a detective solving a mystery, an unknown! It should be adventurous! If a math problem looks boring, turn it into a story: 5+13 can be “Five apple slices in a bowl were joined by 13 grapes—how many pieces of fruit are in the bowl now?” Then, extend learning: How long would it take you to eat it all? What is the average time it takes to eat each piece?

What sorts of books did you enjoy as a child? Which books are your favorites today?

The Choose Your Own Adventure books were near the top of my list! I did like Amelia Bedelia books a lot too. Non-fiction how-to books were always high on my list, and they still are. I read a lot of picture books to my kids, and among my favorites are classics like Where the Wild Things Are, and newer books like What Do You Do With an Idea?

Describe your career path! What were the major steps you took on the path toward being a children's book author?

It was a little roundabout. I was drawn to teaching after tutoring math in fourth grade and loving those “Aha!” moments when a student finally understands a concept. When getting my degree in elementary education, I had an amazing math education teacher. He taught in a very conceptual way. Many of the books I have planned have some of the concepts he used—like using a dozen eggs to teach fractions. While in college, I made a book that my own children loved later on. This inspired me to create the Kids Menu Book series. I've been an author for 6.5 years now.

What do you hope to accomplish through your work?

I hope to instill a love of learning (especially through play)! The Pancake Menu is a book with many options. You can read it, play with it (adding up your orders with Menu Money and making change), and learn how to cook with it.

Some of my other books (yet to be published) teach a concept within a fun story. It's a hard way to write—have a topic in mind and then try to weave a story to frame the concept—but I accept the challenge!  While normal storybooks have their place, I always enjoy creating books that provide more value than a one- or two-time read, and I think many other parents and educators agree.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievements/career highlights as an author? As an educator? 

By far, it was the opportunity to feature my book on Good Morning America!  They contacted me after searching for educational kids products on Kickstarter. It was a big highlight!

Lucy Ravitch on Good Morning America!

I didn't get to teach very long before having my kids, but I do enjoy giving presentations and class visits with my book! I love to see the kids’ eyes open wide when they see the fun drawings and their minds turning when I ask them how much it would cost to get what they want.

You do such a great job weaving poetry and math together to create an activity book that's fun and engaging! Which authors do you consider to be your greatest influences?

Great question! I love Shel Silverstein's wacky poems—especially Where the Sidewalk Ends. Like many people, I love Dr. Seuss, with my favorite being I Can Read with My Eyes Shut! 

These days, who or what inspires you the most?

What inspires me the most is being able to help others enjoy learning and having them see that it can be fun! We should all play more and work a bit less—or at least make work more like play. 

Any future projects in the works? What can we expect as a follow up to The Pancake Menu? 

Yes! I'm working on the rhymes for The Pizza Menu, and I'm having an illustrator work on the first book in my Math Concept Story series, which I plan to submit to agents and editors for one year before considering going independent again. I do like my publishing company, Enjoy Learning Something, but it's a lot of work independently publishing!

The Pancake Menu is available for purchase on Lucy’s website, KidsMenuBooks.com, or Amazon. Lucy also has a special offer just for Mathnasium fans: Purchase The Pancake Menu from her website, and receive $5 off per hardcover book ordered when you use the code PancakeDay2016 (limited to the first 500 orders)!

Lucy blogs on KidsMathTeacher.com. See what she's up to via Twitter (@Lucy_Ravitch), Facebook, Pinterest, & Instagram!