McElligott’s Bean Thirteen is Math Story Magic

Happy #mathbookmagic Monday. And happy #mathstorytellingday!

Last week pick was the Lion’s Share, a tale about doubling and halving. And this week you’ll be seeing double, since I’ve chosen a book by the same author.

The Book

Bean Thirteen was written and illustrated by Matthew McElligott. I first learned about this book while exploring McElligott’s website for last week’s post. However, my son Liam was familiar with the book, exclaiming “I LOVE that book!” as soon as I pulled it out to read.

Cover of Bean Thirteen, which is also available on

McElligott’s bright bug illustrations are the perfect compliment to this delightful bean-sharing story. The main characters are two bugs Ralph and Flora. Ralph warns Flora about picking unlucky bean thirteen. Flora fails to heed Ralph’s warning and now they are stuck with it. In an effort to make bean thirteen disappear, they invite their friends over to share beans. But no matter how they try, there is always at least one bean left over. Will they solve their bean-sharing problem? Or will they be stuck withcursed bean thirteen forever?

The book is suggested for ages 4 to 8.

The Math

Sharing thirteen beans between two, three, four and later five bugs involves the concepts of division, odd and even numbers, and the primeness of the number 13.

Here are some equations describing the sharing in the story:

  • 2 × 6 + 1  Ralph and Flora get 6 beans each, plus 1 unlucky bean 13 leftover
  • 3 × 4 + 1  Ralph, Flora and April get 4 beans each, plus 1 unlucky bean 13 leftover
  • 4 × 3 + 1 Ralph, Flora, April & Joe get 3 beans each, plus 1 unlucky bean 13 leftover

But it gets worse when Meg joins the mix. Now each bug gets two beans each and there are 3 beans leftover!

  • 5 × 2 + 3


The bugs end up inviting Rocco over, but they don’t want to give him all 3 leftovers. That’s not fair!

Should  Rocco get two too? … but there’s that unlucky bean 13 again. [6 × 2 + 1]

On his website,  McElligott suggests accompanying activities to share in the classroom and at home.  My kids and I especially enjoyed The Disappearing Bean activity posted (see images below, we taped the printed sheet to card stock). There are 13 beans on the left, and 12 on the right (after the two pieces marked A and B are swapped, you’ll need to zoom in on the pictures to see the A and B).  Where did bean 13 go? Is it magic? Is there a mathematical way to track that bean?

The Magic

What I love about McElligott’s work is his ability to weave mathematical concepts into his stories in an authentic way.  While I read this story with my children, Liam (7) and Siena (5), it feel like a true sharing of ideas.  They’d chime in with comments like:

“They can’t do it. It won’t work.”

“They can’t share them. Not unless you have 13 groups of 1.”

They asked questions like:

“Is it because 13 is odd?” (Liam, 7)

“What’s odd?” (Siena, 5)

“What if we cut beans in half?”

What makes this book #mathbookmagic in my opinion is that it leaves room for questions like these. It leaves room for wonder. It invites children to participate in the sharing of the beans and mathematizing the story in a way that makes sense to them.

Which stories are you reading today for #mathstorytellingday? Share in the comments or go to Shared booklist for instructions.

If you’d like to receive these magical math book posts each Monday, be sure to follow this blog in the side bar of this page.

Thanks and see you next Monday! #mathbookmagic


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