Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci

Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci

Joseph D’Agnese, text

John O’Brien, illustrations

Henry Holt and Company, 2010

40 pp.

Age: 7+

Interests: math, history, science, biography, Middle Ages, Italy

A speculative history of the life of Fibonacci, the greatest Western mathematician of the middle ages.  He was the one who championed the switch from Roman numerals to the Hindu-Arabic numerals we use today. He posed number problems and riddles, and uncovered a numeric sequence that is echoed in nature, in everything from leaves to seashells to lemons to elephant tusks.

What the story is really about, though, is the intellectual life of an outsider, a boy everyone calls blockhead because he’s always daydreaming about numbers. A family friend encourages him to pursue his learning…

“And you, Master Leonardo, what makes you happiest?”

“Numbers,” I said without thinking.

“Then you should learn all you can about them. That way you will always be happy.”

Good advice! These words help Leonardo shrug off the opinions of others and follow his own path.

This is a rather basic primer on Fibonacci and what is now called the Fibonacci Sequence, but it’s effective for young readers as a springboard to learning more about math and the numbers found in nature. The illustrations are quirky and evocative of the age, including within them many examples of the very numbers and patterns that Fibonacci discovered.

The narrative is very accessible for children – the hero is a young boy who is in trouble with his teachers and teased by his classmates, whose father has plans for his career that he doesn’t want to follow. He daydreams and counts everything he can through sheer love of the subject, and is amused by the riddles and puzzles numbers suggest to him. On the last page the reader is invited to go back and find certain objects in the illustrations. As well there are suggestions of things to observe in real life, ie. cutting open an apple to count the seeds or finding double spirals in a pinecone.

An intriguing book about math, early mathematicians, and happy eccentrics.

(This title at


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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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