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Teaching Mathematical Concepts with the Warlord’s Series of Picture Books


The Warlord’s Series of books by Virginia Walton Pilegard

The Warlord series of books invites readers to explore mathematical concepts in a narrative format. The illustrations (courtesy of Nicolas Debon) are inviting and engaging, using clever details and rich color to bring the story to life and help the reader see the mathematical concepts at play in each story. Each story involves a different activity for further exploration of the concept in the book. The activities are easily adaptable to the classroom or can be used at home for a fun afternoon project. Most of the activities involve items you can quickly find at home or in the classroom. Have fun with this!


  • The Warlord’s Kites In this story, Chuan and Jing Jing seek to save the palace from a growing army outside the palace gates. While the elders hold back the gates and decide to wait out the invaders, Jing Jing has a clever plan to keep the invaders away from the palace. Chuan teaches her how to measure the area of a square so that she can form three square kites. Her plan involving kites and bamboo flutes displays wit and ingenuity – and the invaders quickly flee. After reading the story, students will find directions for forming their own square kite.
  • The Warlord’s Puzzle An artist presents the warlord with a beautiful blue tile, but sadly it breaks, and the artist cannot fit the pieces back together. A contest is announced and people from all over the country line up to solve the warlord’s puzzle. Many people fail at the task, but finally a young boy studies the shapes and quietly begins to piece the tile together, creaming a square once again. This tangram puzzle has fascinated people for centuries, and readers can trace their own tangram puzzle and play with the intriguing shapes.
  • The Warlord’s Beads A counting adventure for all who have spentwarlord.beads time counting blocks, beads, boxes, anything at all! This might be my personal favorite, as I really do love the possibilities that come with an abacus and I love the idea that readers can create their own abacus. Chuan is a young boy who is worried about his peasant father, a man who has been given the task of counting. He often loses his place while counting carved boxes and consequently, the number always changes. The warlord is concerned about theft and Chuan’s father needs a clever way to count in order to assure the warlord that his boxes are all present. Chuan comes up with the idea of counting beads using small switches to keep track of the beads. This method helps Chuan and his father continue the counting. Using simple supplies (a cardboard frame, pipe cleaners and O shaped cereal (Cheerios!), readers can create their own abacus and start counting! A fun activity that will engage readers and inspire many counting sessions of course!

  • The Warlord’s Fish The story of a sandstorm and a desert journey, this is the tale of the compass. Chuan and the artist are kidnapped and led through the desert on a long journey. Sand obscures everything and they cannot use the sun to find their direction. It seems that all are lost and no one is able to find their way out of the desert. But Chuan and the artist have a plan, using a strange fish and a bowl of water. This fish will always point south when floating in water, and although everyone is doubtful, they have no choice but to follow the fish. Fortunately, the fish does lead the way and the lost wanderers make their way to an oasis. Chuan and the artist are rewarded with their freedom and then began carving fish to create magnets that travelers could use for their own compasses. In fact, a south pointing compass using magnets was created in third century BC in China, and readers can then learn about how these early compasses were carved and often shaped like fish or turtles. Using a styrofoam cup and a paper clip, readers can create their own compass.
  • The Warlord’s Puppeteers This is the tale of young Chuan and his mentor artist, who travel with a troupe of puppeteers and the puppeteer’s daughter. When the precious puppets (which take three months to create) are stolen by bandits, all are despondent. But the artist is determined to make new puppets for the puppeteer’s daughter, following the Chinese tradition of true proportions of life in the puppets. The new puppets must have a body that is six times the size of the head. After reading the book, students can create their own sock puppets while learning about ratios.
  • The Warlord’s Messengers  In this tale, the warlord is sixteen days away from the emperor’s palace, not knowing that his presence is requested in just fourteen days. Chuan and Jing Jing know that the messenger is on his way to meet the warlord, but they need to arrive at the warlord’s camp right away, ahead of the messenger in order to give the warlord enough traveling time to make the journey to the palace. They built a sailing cart (like the land-sailing wind driven carriage of 550 in China, which reached thirty to forty miles per hour). Chuan and Jing Jing are able to meet the warlord in just a matter of hours, delivering the message and saving valuable time, while the messenger used a horse and met them two days later. The ingenuity once again saves the day. Readers can then create their own windsock using recycled household items (oatmeal box, old sheet or pillowcase, and string).
  • The Warlord’s Alarm  The idea of creating an alarm without a clock is a tricky one, but Chuan and Jing Jing do not warlord.alarmhave a choice in this matter. They must come up with an idea to wake the warlord before the sun rises and set out on their journey to the palace. They can only sleep for four hours before the wake-up call, but initially they are at a loss for how to achieve an effective alarm in the middle of the night. Fortunately, they remember a leaking water bag and eventually devise a simplified Chinese water clock that will help wake them (and wash them!) in time for their journey. The story displays creative problem-solving skills and their ingenuity is indeed successful, which readers will appreciate. The story is also an opportunity for students to learn about the ancient Chinese water clocks and even a three-story mechanical clock, built in 1088, which will fascinate readers with its ability to keep track of time.

Have you tried any of these activities in your classroom? What is your favorite?


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