maths and family dinners, a winning combination

by Marilyn Burns, illustrated by Debbie Tilley - Scholastic US. 
ages 2 to 8 years / s.t.e.m.

Our Easter this year (as every year) is choc-full of family feasts. We have three big feasting occasions over the four days and the busyness of it all reminded me of this great mathematical story.

It’s all about Mr & Mrs Comfort who decide to host a family dinner. They invite the whole family and end up with 32 people! That's a big family!

A menu is decided upon: spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread and salad, with celery and olives as starters. 

On the big day, tables and chairs are rented and set out in 8 neat tables with fours chairs at each. But, as the family arrive, they each take it upon themselves to rearrange the tables. 

Mrs Comfort is completely sure that the new arrangements won’t work—and she’s right—but she is constantly told to stop worrying. 

Eventually, all the tables are put back, just as she had originally placed them. And everyone enjoys a tremendous family feast.


This is a great story for showing a family making accommodations for each other, being flexible and adapting to circumstances, being delighted to be together, and feasting.

And then there’s the maths. My favourite part about the way this story works is that although it’s full of math, there are no mathematical symbols anywhere - for a child who's a bit hesitant where maths are concerned, this can be ideal. Lots of fairly easy maths problems are solved throughout, but each forms part of the main story.

A small reading hint:

In the back of the book there are a range of ideas for extending it into a maths activity. As well as the activities in the book, it could be fun for a child to imagine a dinner with all of his or her own family – how many people would come – where would they sit – how many tables would be needed – how many knives or forks – and so on. 

Even more fun would be to actually host a dinner that brings the whole family together. (That would provide still more real life maths activities!)

Our family has really enjoyed this book over the years, partly because we can relate to large, opinionated, and jovial families. It’s a fun story that rings true. I love the energy in the illustrations, especially the last page—where the whole family is sitting just where Mrs Comfort originally planned, all toasting a wonderful day. 

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