My Shape is Sam

Recently, Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez shared via Twitter how she planned to read My Shape is Sam to celebrate #MathStorytellingday (September 25). As soon as I heard the title and saw the cover art, I knew I needed to get my hands on this book!

On her Math is Everywhere blog, Kaitlyn shares what she loves about the book:

My Shape is Sam is a powerful book about self-discovery and self-acceptance through the eyes of a square named Sam. It has the feel of an inspirational movie and the fun of a day-in-the-life of a kid. … I truly believe this is going to be a classic of our time, reminding us all to accept ourselves for who we are, even if it doesn’t fit what’s expected.”

Thanks Kaitlyn for spreading the word about this book. We thought it was special too!

The Book

Written By Amanda Jackson and illustrated by Lydia Nichols, My Shape is Sam tells the story of a square named Sam who longs to be more like a circle. Especially because circles can roll! How fun would that be?!

This sweet story follows Sam’s journey to becoming the shape that suits him best. Is it a circle? A square? Or some shape in between? Nichols’s bright, cheerful illustrations are the perfect complement to Jackson’s heart-warming story. Published in September 2019 by Page Street Kids, My Shape is Sam is a perfect fit for ages 3-6.

Math

This story and accompanying illustrations provide opportunities to children to notice shapes. The illustrations are full of triangles, rectangles, and lots of squares and circles. I like how the book focuses on two shapes (squares and circles) and the ways in which they are and are not similar.

The book is a great introduction to investigating the properties and defining characteristics of a particular shape. In other words, noticing what makes a square a square and a circle a circle.

Below is a page describing what makes Sam a square.

From My Name is Sam by Amanda Jackson and Lydia Nichols

[Aside on four “even sides”: I prefer “four equal” sides” or to be pedantic, “four equal length sides”. However, I recognize “even sides” is a familiar way to describe the sides of a square and I do appreciate that this language is coupled with the rulers in the illustration which imply equality.]

And here is a description of the characteristics of circles.

From My Name is Sam by Amanda Jackson and Lydia Nichols

At the end, the book introduces a new shape called a SAM providing an opportunity to observe and compare the characteristics of a SAM to a circle and a square.

I can’t leave the Math section without a nod to why the title of this book hooked me immediately. And that has to do with a special Hierarchy of Hexagon Activity designed by math educator Christopher Danielson. Danielson was brainstorming ways to help his students (prospective teachers) distinguish between properties and defining characteristics of a shape. He wanted to problematize the situation and for him that involved placing the students in a situation where they had to classify and compare a less familiar set of shapes (as opposed to classify and compare quadrilaterals for example). He choose the set of hexagons below.

From Danielson’s blog post The Hierarchy of Hexagons

After his students cut these shapes out, he asked them to choose one that seemed special to them for some reason, and to identify what property or properties made the hexagon special. The activity engaged the students in the mathematical processes of defining and comparing shapes. They even chose names for their shapes. Here is the hierachy of hexagons his class came up with based on the shapes above.

From Danielson’s blog post The Hierarchy of Hexagons

Perhaps you see from this hierarchy why I thought of this when I saw My Shape is Sam. Check out Stacy, Mercedes, Norm and Bob! I love the idea of students naming shapes and sharing their definitions of said shapes. It’s a great opportunity to engage in the mathematical process of defining.

If you are interested in what shape was a Stacy or a Bob, you can read more about the development of the Hierarchy of Hexagons Activity here, here and here. You can also go to this Desmos teaching activity and try a related activity out in your classroom.

The Magic

So the title was definitely a magical hook for me, but what about my children? Would they think the book was magical?

I shared the book with my 4 year old son, Landon. He was a huge fan of the spread below. He loved identifying all the things Sam was a part of (a building, a truck, a train and a bridge).

From My Name is Sam by Amanda Jackson and Lydia Nichols

The most magical part of our sharing was at the end of the book. I won’t share what shape a Sam is exactly, as I don’t want to spoil the surprise. But the last page, has an image of Sam’s new shape and the words: My Shape is Sam. As we read that page, I asked:

“What shape is a Landon?”

“This one!” He said using using his hands to trace around his body and said, “But he doesn’t have arms (pointing to Sam).” Then, pointing to Sam’s “sides” in the picture he counted, “One, two, three, four.” Then turned to me, asking: “Count me!”

I was a bit confused and asked. “Your sides?” To which he replied, “My body.”

I began counting body parts and that seemed to satisfy him. Two eyes. Two arms. One nose. One belly. Ten toes. Landon each of my counts with a “That’s right” or “Yes,” and we continued. Then I begin to get silly and miscount, counting three knees and four ears. He erupted into giggles. It was a magical moment, silly moment.

Then, Landon proceeded to tell me that he is going to “read” the book to me and as he makes his way through the pages I notice one more magical detail.

“Look, Landon, what shape are the pages of the book?”

” A Sam!”

“Yep. A Sam! How cool is that!?!”

“Very cool.”

Very cool indeed.

***

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