By Elio Gugliotti, Editor
NAUGATUCK — As schools across the state turned to distance learning amid the COVID-19 outbreak this spring, Thomas Deitelbaum thought about the significant amount of time children spent in front of computer screens.
Then an idea popped into his head.
Deitelbaum, a fourth-grade teacher at Hop Brook Elementary School, would write a children’s book — one that children could enjoy, while still learning, away from their computer screens.
Deitelbaum’s idea became reality in October when he self-published his first book, “Halfsy: A Math Adventure,” through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform. The book is available as a paperback only on Amazon.
“I truly believe that every child can succeed with math, and I hope this book is one small way that kids — even if ‘math averse’ — can have a positive and fun experience thinking about math, and start to see math not just as something hidden in a textbook or that they do once a day in school, but something that surrounds them in their world,” said Deitelbaum, a 42-year-old lifelong Naugatuck resident.
The picture book follows the character Halfsy as he travels from his home of Zero to the land of One, and stops to explore the island of Half on the way. Along his journey, Halfsy encounters different representations of the mathematical concept of half, such as half as a set of objects and as a part of a whole. The book includes prompts at the end for parents and educators to discuss with children.
“I think it’s important for kids that they have different representations of any concept that they’re learning about,” Deitelbaum said.
Deitelbaum said he chose the concept of half for the story because it’s one children can understand and fractions are a fundamental part of math.
Deitelbaum connected with an illustrator, Carolyn Frank, for the book through Fiverr, an online platform for freelance services. He also received plenty of help from his family: his wife, Catherine, and their three children, Luke, 14, John, 12, and Sophie, 6.
Luke helped develop story boards for the book and the whole family was a great sounding board for ideas, Deitelbaum said. He added he was able to do his own market research at home with his young daughter, Sophie. If she responded well to ideas, he said he knew he was on the right track.
Market research isn’t a foreign concept to Deitelbaum.
Education is a second career for Deitelbaum, who has taught at Hop Brook for his entire eight-year teaching career. Before going into teaching, he worked in project management roles with marketing companies.
Education runs in his family, said Deitelbaum. His wife is a math teacher at Shelton High School and his sister-in-law, Tiffany Deitelbaum, is a veteran educator in Naugatuck and the principal at Cross Street Intermediate School.
“I’ve always had educators around me, and it’s something I was always in tune with and interested in,” he said.