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Charlesbridge Math Adventures

A Very Improbable Story

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What are the odds?

Ethan wakes up one morning to find a very strange cat stuck on his head. The cat, Odds, refuses to budge until Ethan wins a game of probability. Without looking, Ethan must pick out a dime from his coin collection or two matching socks from his dresser, or do something else improbable. If he doesn't, Odds is there to stay, and Ethan has a 100% chance of missing his big soccer game.

A very improbable story about a challenging math concept.

32 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2007

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About the author

Edward Einhorn

20 books21 followers
Edward Einhorn is a writer/theater director, based in New York. He has written plays about neurology; picture books about math; adaptations of sci-fi novels; translations of French and Czech absurdists and of ancient Greek drama; puppet theater; modern Oz novels; explorations of economic theory; autobiographical found text dramas; midrashim on Jewish cultural icons; a libretto for an oratorio; and other texts of a less definable nature. He is also the Artistic Director of a theater company, Untitled Theater Company #61: a Theater of Ideas.

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5 stars
45 (33%)
4 stars
47 (35%)
3 stars
30 (22%)
2 stars
10 (7%)
1 star
1 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 31 reviews
Profile Image for Krista the Krazy Kataloguer.
3,873 reviews267 followers
July 3, 2014
Well, the idea of a cat stuck on top of a boy's head is novel, but I would have liked a less fantastical reason for the boy to be compelled to play the cat's games. Nevertheless, this story was a great way to teach probability to kids--even I understood it! And then having the boy find a practical use for probability at the end was perfect--teach the concept and then present a practical application for it. Recommended for kids who like math and adults who want to understand it.
Profile Image for Chris.
965 reviews14 followers
September 14, 2017
Oh my gosh, what a great picture book to introduce probability to older kids! It's cute and fun and gives wonderful mathematical information in a straight-forward, interesting way. It gets a little convoluted at the end, but if it's being used as a read aloud, stress and pausing can be used effectively, then a probability game similar to one described int the book and VOILA!!
16 reviews2 followers
June 11, 2014
Illustrated by Adam Gustavson
Published: 2009
Fiction, Picture book

The book is about a boy named Ethan who wakes up with a cat on his head. This cat is named Odds and he is not your ordinary cat. He can talk and he likes to play probability games. Odds tells Ethan he will get off his head if he wins a probability game. Ethan makes several attempts without success. Finally, right before he must go to his soccer game, Ethan wins a probability game involving the five different shapes of Woofie Puffs. Odds jumps off Ethan's head. Ethan then goes on to show his knowledge of probability by using soccer goals as an example. Through probability, Ethan realizes that he has better odds of making a goal if he aims high.

What a great book for an introduction and possibly a summative assessment for probability. This would obviously be used in the upper grades and with fluent readers as an interactive read aloud. This book is less about the plot and characters and more about making probability authentic to the reader. The illustrations are great and really add to the understanding of the text especially the pages discussing marbles. The different combinations of two marbles are drawn out so the reader can see it visually which is sometimes the most difficult part of probability. My only critic would be to have all of the probability problems drawn out for students who need to see the problem visually.

Discussion questions:
1) Before and after reading: What do you think the meaning of improbable in the title means?
2) After reading: what is the definition of probability according to the book?
3) In the book, Ethan uses probability to help him figure out the best way to score a goal. How would you use probability to help you?

Profile Image for JustOneMoreBook.com.
360 reviews162 followers
June 27, 2008
What’s the likelihood that a crusty feline sticking stubbornly to a boy’s skull and expounding statistical concepts would be not only strangely engaging but would clearly communicate what probability is, what it’s not, how to pronounce it and how to use it to improve soccer scores? In this case, 100%

You can listen in on our chat about this book on our Just One More Book! Children's Book Podcast.

December 5, 2015
Title: A very Improbable Story
Author: Edward Einhorn
Illustrator: Adam Gustavson
Genre: Concept Book
Theme(s): Mathematics, Probability
Opening line/sentence:
One morning Ethan woke up with a cat on his head.
Brief Book Summary:
Ethan wakes up on the morning of his last soccer game with a cat, named Odds, stuck on his head and tries everything to try to get Odds off. The only way Odds agrees to get off Ethan’s head so he can go to his game is if Ethan plays games of probability with Odds and wins. They play with money, socks, marbles and then dog shaped cereal until Ethan finally wins.
Professional Recommendation/Review #1:
Lonnie Powell (The Lorgnette - Heart of Texas Reviews (Vol. 21, No. 2))
When Ethan wakes up one morning with a talking cat on his head, he finds he must win a game of probability before the cat will move. This story would be great to read to a class before beginning a study of probability. It shows students the many ways probability can be used and how important it is. Outstanding illustrations are found on every page. This will be a great book for the elementary library.
Professional Recommendation/Review #2:
Gail C. Krause (Children's Literature)
What would you do if you woke up with a cat on your head? What are the chances you could get him off? That is the exact predicament Ethan woke up to one morning. A strange cat sat on his head. The cat looked like a normal cat in every way, but he spoke. His name was Odds and he was a math cat. He arrived on Ethan s head to teach him the laws of probability. He does this throughout the book by challenging the boy to games of odds. The reader, like Ethan, is introduced to math concepts, which demonstrate probability. Try as he may, Ethan cannot remove Odds from his head unless he plays and understands the games the cat sets up for him. He tries to win the probability game with his clothes, his money, and his breakfast cereal. He even tries to enlist the help of his little sister, but to no avail. Finally, something that interests him instills the necessary motivation for him to learn probability. This book is a clever way to introduce a mathematical concept to children. Highly recommended for elementary math teachers, not only to be used as a teaching tool, but to be a lesson for the teacher, as well.
Response to Two Professional Reviews: These reviews both recommend using this book in the elementary classroom to introduce the concept of probability to students. I agree, I would definitely use this book in my future classroom. I strongly agree with the second review that says this book is a lesson for the teacher as well. As we saw, when something that Ethan was interested in (soccer) was brought into the story, he was a lot more motivated to understand probability. As teachers, its important to learn from this and know our students interests and incorporate them into our everyday lessons to get them interested.
Evaluation of Literary Elements: Even though the part with the cat is very unrealistic, I think this book did a great job explaining probability in a fun, easy way. It does a good job of teaching but not preaching and students wouldn’t even know they are actually learning. There are a lot of well-done, colorful illustrations throughout the book that are hand painted. It is a super easy read, as it is mainly a picture book with only a paragraph or so of words on every page.
Consideration of Instructional Application:
I would use this book probably with 3rd graders to introduce the concept of probability with students. After we read the book and review the information in the book, I would have students design their own game of chance using objects from there every day lives. As they play, they will record the outcomes of the series of trials.
Profile Image for Dolly.
Author 1 book643 followers
November 6, 2011
This is a fun story that teaches the concept of probability in a practical and easy to understand way. The fact that there's a cat on the boy's head is very humorous and the challenge he is given motivates him to succeed so that he can go to his soccer game (without a cat on his head.) The illustrations are entertaining and very expressive. I also liked the additional information provided in the back of the book about the pioneers in probability (with illustrations of men with cats on their heads).

I am trying to borrow more and more math-focused books from our library and I'm glad we discovered this one. Books like these help show how math skills are essential in everyday life, and that math can also be fun. We really enjoyed reading this story together.
Profile Image for Kate Hastings.
2,120 reviews38 followers
October 12, 2010
--grades 2-5
--When Ethan wakes up there is a cat “Odds” stuck to his head
--won’t get off until he can beat the odds
--pull out a dime from a coin jar
--pull out a matching sock from the sock drawer
--choosing a matching marble
--finding a matching animal cracker
--uses odds to predict his chances of making a soccer goal using certain shots.
--can use the examples in the story to learn about probability.
Profile Image for The Brothers.
4,118 reviews21 followers
March 7, 2016
A boy awakes with a cat on his head and the only way to get the cat off is to "beat the odds." The cat proceeds to educate the boy on what probability is all about. Will the kid be able to get the cat off his head in time for the big soccer game. What are the odds....?

Dex (4yo) really liked this book, though I get the feeling he didn't understand what most of it was about.

Great illustrations.
Profile Image for Meg Robinson.
9 reviews
November 21, 2018
Loved this story! I loved how throughout the story it developed the ideas of probability, from at the beginning talking about winning and losing odds to talking about equivalent fractions by the end. A lovely story that children would find amusing, and one that could be made interactive too with a story sack with each of the odds games in. Just a massive shame that probability is no longer on the curriculum!
74 reviews
July 21, 2009
A Math Adventure book that teaches about odds and probability. The cat named Odds sits atop Ethan's head and the adventure begins. The story is so unlikely and so cute that it just captured our imagination.
Profile Image for STEPHanie Collao.
70 reviews1 follower
October 23, 2008
Good book that teaches the theory of probability. I enjoyed the way the author illustrated how probability works and how to apply it to everyday life uses.
1,790 reviews16 followers
July 25, 2014
Students will easily understand the idea of probability after reading this book.
206 reviews6 followers
February 8, 2015
I gave this 5 stars because it is an amusing story that entertained my kids while explaining probability. The goal of this book was accomplished.
Profile Image for Meredith Kaupp.
468 reviews7 followers
June 27, 2015
Fun story to introduce probability to students. Plus, there's a probability riddle for them to solve at the end.
5 reviews
June 4, 2021
I found this story fun, creative, and very engaging at introducing young readers to the concept of probability.

The illustrations in this book were wonderful and the fantastical premise is a great hook for young students. The games of probability Ethan and Odds play can also easily be integrated into a real-world math lesson, making it a great choice for any middle elementary classroom.
100 reviews
May 15, 2023
This book is about a boy trying to get a cat off his head. The only way that the cat would leave his head is if the boy wins a game of probability with low odds. After a couple of games and winning a probability game with a 1 out of 25 odd, the cat jumps off of the boy's head. The illustrations are paint-like and have great detail. I like the fact that the cat seems to blend in with the boy's hair so much that you can barely tell the difference. I mainly like how the illustrations are set up so that they can explain probability by using the illustrations as visual aids. The writing is simple but explains the rules of probability very well. Overall this is a great book to use to teach kids about probability with the help of clear text and detailed illustrations.
Profile Image for Jessie.
1,949 reviews26 followers
July 18, 2018
This is a very strange setup for doing probability. (Also, the very first example with the coins is so easy to "cheat" at! A dime and a penny feel different!)

The probability is all based on counting outcomes; there's no more clever calculations. That's fine but good to know for talking with kids about the book. The one place where that gets a little weird is with the soccer problem at the end with the soccer example. The error bars on those percentages would definitely make them indistinguishable. And while it's fine in a frequentist framework to look at outcomes in the past to get the probability, it's really too few samples for that.
7 reviews
December 3, 2017
I really appreciate this story by Edward Einhorn, because it shows how things in our everyday life can be used in probability. when I was reading this book I noticed that almost all of the examples of probability is something that we see in our everyday lives. So, as a future mathematics teacher, I would definitely use this book when discussing probabilities with the class.
Profile Image for Andrea.
517 reviews
June 17, 2021
How do you get a cat named "Odds" off your head? You win a game of chance! This is a humorous tale that has a mathematical purpose -- to teach kids about probability. And if you can't win? Put a hat over the cat on your head.
Profile Image for Rick.
2,379 reviews
May 30, 2022
What are the chances of waking up to find a cat stuck to your head? Pretty darn close to zero. This is definitely a very improbable picture book. But it delightfully presents the concept of probabilities and statistics for young minds to grasp. Well done.
Profile Image for April Grob.
217 reviews1 follower
December 11, 2020
Cute mentor text for teaching improbability and probability to students 3 to 8.
Profile Image for Jaidab.
1,640 reviews6 followers
October 3, 2021
I liked the illustrations.
As far as the story— it was good for what it was I guess. But, any book that has a glaring message doesn’t sit well with me.
Profile Image for Sandy.
2,009 reviews12 followers
November 10, 2021
An amusing way to introduce probability to kids. My kid was a bit turned off by the "math adventure" subtitle, but once you've got a cat on a kids head, she was interested.
Profile Image for Jo Oehrlein.
6,272 reviews9 followers
April 10, 2018
The story's pretty weak and not well explained. The boy awakes with a cat on his head and the cat won't leave until the boy wins a low-odds contest like picking out two identical colored balls from a set, etc.

Some of the contests would be easy to win (it's easy to select the right coin because different coins have different dimensions and features).

There was really no context for most of the probability, although he did calculate the number of possibilities some times. He "calculated" it, though, by showing all the combinations, not by using formulas.
Profile Image for Khadija Bensaadoun.
95 reviews2 followers
April 22, 2012
A silly story about a cat who promises to get off the boys head if he wins a game on probability. This is a good resource to use when teaching probability because it shows how probability van be used with coins, marbles, socks and many other things! Activity: students will work with a pa partner and they will flip a coin 20 times. Each time a coin is flipped they will record if it landed on heads or tails. At the end the teacher will discuss the data that the students collected.
17 reviews50 followers
July 23, 2012
This is more of a "teaching book" than a "sit down and enjoy" book. It does have a fun backstory, but it includes a lot of helpful explicit teaching about probability and statistics in kid-friendly terms. Not the kind of book kids would likely choose to read at home, but somewhat fun to read in class.

Possible extension in math lesson.
Profile Image for Fjóla.
450 reviews26 followers
October 6, 2014
Interesting subject, nicely illustrated, but for some reason not as engaging as I was hoping. Not sure if any kid under ten would really get the concepts presented here, the way they are explained (or not explained). But, a great idea that can most definitely spark interest. Maybe this book can be complimented with some other book that provides more clarifications.
Profile Image for Charlyn.
607 reviews3 followers
July 5, 2010
Ethan wakes up with an unfamiliar cat named Odds on his head. The cat promises to get off the child's head if Ethan can win a game of probability. What follows is a math story intended to teach "what the odds are."
Displaying 1 - 30 of 31 reviews

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