Skip to main content

A Grain of Rice

Review

A Grain of Rice

In A GRAIN OF RICE, author Helena Clare Pittman shares the ancient story of a farmer, Pong Lo, who wants to marry the Emperor's daughter. The emperor's daughter is smitten with him, and he with her. Of course, when he proposes marriage, the Emperor is angry and refuses him. However, instead of being thrown out of the palace, he is allowed to work in the storeroom.  There, he makes himself useful by organizing and keeping track of things. From those humble beginnings, he works himself up to the position of Imperial Assistant to the Imperial Cook.

"This is a great story that incorporates mathematical concepts into the narrative....Pittman also uses detailed and delightful pencil drawings to enhance the story line throughout the book."

Meanwhile, the emperor is planning on inviting all the single noble men to the palace in the summer so they can vie for the princess' hand. When the princess hears this, her heart is crushed. She longs for Pong Lo, but is sick that their love will never be. She takes to her bed and refuses to eat. Her father, desperate to help his daughter, hires all manner of people to heal her. No matter what they do, the princess keeps getting weaker and weaker and weaker.

Pong Lo, who knows the princess is ill, makes a potion of leaves and roots. He brings a small bottle of it to the emperor and encourages the emperor to give it to his daughter. He guarantees it will work, and it does. The grateful father offers the peasant an award for healing his daughter. Pong Lo asks for the princess' hand again in marriage. The emperor refuses, again. So, Pong Lo makes a strange request. He asks for one grain of rice, with the amount doubled every day for 100 days. The emperor thinks this is an easy request to fulfill, so he grants it. The emperor soon learns that the Pong Lo has outsmarted him and Pong Lo's greatest wish is granted, that is, he marries the emperor's daughter.

This is a great story that incorporates mathematical concepts into the narrative. Usually with a story of this type, you are presented with just the narrative. But, the author has divided this book into two parts: The first part is the retelling of the story; the second part is an explanation of the mathematics behind the story line. Asking for one grain of rice the first day, with the amount doubled every day for 100 days, doesn't sound like much. But, by day 10, the emperor is obligated to give Pong Lo 512 grains of rice. That still doesn't sound like a whole lot, but it's a lot more than one grain of rice, isn't it? By day 20, the amount had grown to 524,288 grains of rice! Pittman uses charts and graphs and other tools to explain the concept of exponentiation, or "using powers," which shows how a single grain of rice can change to so many in such a short period of time. The explanation is easy to understand and is interesting to read about. Pittman also uses detailed and delightful pencil drawings to enhance the story line throughout the book.

Reviewed by Christine M. Irvin on June 27, 2018

A Grain of Rice
by Helena Clare Pittman