A Grain of Rice
post written by Emma Filbrun
Title: A Grain of Rice
Author: Helena Clare Pittman
Major Themes: Mathematics, China
Synopsis: When he makes the princess well, Pong Lo asks as reward only one grain of rice—doubled every day for 100 days!
A Grain of Rice has been a favorite in our house for a long time! It is a sweet love story and a mathematical illustration, and a glimpse at ancient Chinese court life, all in one.
To begin, Pong Lo shows up at the emperor’s court and asks for the hand of his daughter, Princess Chang Wu, in marriage. Of course, being a poor farmer, he cannot possibly marry her! So, he settles for working for the emperor—and makes himself indispensable, quickly. Before long, however, the princess falls ill and in desperation the emperor offers anything to whoever will make her well. Of course, Pong Lo has the remedy, but the emperor still cannot allow them to marry. Pong Lo says in that case he just wants a grain of rice. If the emperor insists on giving him more than one grain of rice, well, he can just double it every day for 100 days. You can guess the rest—this is a wonderful illustration of exponents!
A short book, A Grain of Rice is wonderful for young children, but read it again when they are older and are learning about exponents in the higher grades! They will be delighted with the story and might even catch the mathematical concept!