Celebrate Spring with Anno’s Magic Seeds

Miss Maple’s Seeds by Eliza Wheeler is a family favorite. Nestled among her gorgeous illustrations, Wheeler shares a sweet story celebrating the potential found in every seed. (Makes a nice teacher gift coupled with plant/flowers/pot decorated by your child, if you need ideas).

“Even the grandest tree once had to grow up from the smallest of seeds.” (Miss Maple’s Seeds)


Spring is the perfect time to witness the magic of seeds by planting some of your own or reading picture books like Miss Maple’s Seeds, A Seed is Sleepy, or Anno’s Magic Seeds, the magical math book shared below.

The Book

Mitsumasa Anno is a Japanese illustrator and writer of children’s books. In 1984, he received the international Hans Christian Andersen Medal for his lasting contribution to children’s literature. Many of his picture books reflect his interest in mathematics (e.g,   Anno’s Magic Seeds, Anno’s Counting Book and Anno’s Mysterious Multiplying Jar). 

Annos magic seeds

In Anno’s Magic Seeds, the main character Jack receives a gift of two magic seeds from a wizard. He is instructed to eat one of the seeds (which will sustain him for an entire year) and plant the second seed. Jack’s magic seed keeps growing and growing and growing. His magical crops grow quickly, first by ones, then by twos and faster and faster. But when a terrible flood threatens his livelihood, he must decide whether he will begin again.

Anno’s sweet water color illustrations are clear and purposeful making it both easy and interesting to count the different arrangements of plants. Here is an example of one his  illustrations.

IMG_3467 copy
From Anno’s Magic Seeds showing Jack, 1 red seed he eats, and the brown seeds he plants

There are different ways of counting the seeds above. A child may count by ones, by twos (adding one extra at the end), they might recognize an array of 6 seeds on the left plus 3 extra seeds, or they might count a different way entirely. Anno poses questions throughout the story: How many seeds did he bury? How many seeds grew that year? The answers are not explicitly given in text, but can be determined by following both story and art.

Here are Anno’s own words describing his motivation for sharing this story.

I call this book The Magic Seeds because, in fact, there is a mysterious power in even one tiny seed that seems quite beyond our understanding. Of course, we could not live for a year on one grain of rice or cereal, as Jack did. But if we should bury one seed in the ground and take care of the plant that grows from it, it would not be long before we had a crop of hundreds of thousands of grains. In our real world of nature there are many such magical events–more than are contained in all the most fantastic picture books. 

This book is great for K-3 and beyond. The patterns and questions get complicated enough to intrigue older elementary students. The book is out of print, so prices of a new copy are quite high (used copies are reasonable). You might check your local library.

The Math

There are many counting opportunities in this book and much more math as well.  Here’s the description of the math from inside the jacket cover:

Though the story can be followed without any math skills beyond simple addition and subtraction, sharp witted-young readers will delight in the increasingly tricky arithmetic puzzles woven into text and illustrations.

Even though the patterns in the book do not follow a strictly increasing exponential pattern as is the case in  One Grain of Rice and Two of Everything, the power of exponential growth underlies the ideas in the book.  Since the pattern is not strictly exponential,  more figuring and keeping track is necessary in order to follow patterns and answer Anno’s questions.


I read this book twice to my older children (9 and 6 years old).  First we read together, the three of us.

During this first reading, the magical component of this book was the invitation to count. It was lovely watching the variations on how they both counted the images, when and where they were and were not interested in counting, and how they compared and recounted when their answers didn’t match their sibling’s answer. They often stopped me mid-sentence or page flip to count. They directed each other “Move your hand I’m counting.”  This book inspired them to count. This isn’t always the case. Many picture books we read state an answer BEFORE the page turn. This book doesn’t state all its answer in the text, they are hidden in the pictures and the story.  This creates a need to count for the reader that isn’t the case in many of the picture books we read.

In addition to the counting, they were drawn in by the illustrations and the story.   My daughter noticed in an illustration that the mother was going to have a child and was excited when the baby shows up later. “I knew it!” she exclaimed proudly and flipped back to show me the image below (which I had overlooked the first time around).

Anno’s Magic Seeds. Illustration of Jack’s Wife

They conjectured that the wizard brought the storm that comes at the end. They wondered, how the seed sequence begin asking, How did the wizard get the seeds? The shared why they enjoyed the story,  ” I like how he’s building an empire.”

It was clear during that first reading, they were connected to story through the counting,  story, and  illustrations. I decided to read the story again a few days later.  I was curious if they would connect a bit more to the math (e.g., do more of the figuring and calculating necessary to determine seed pattern from year to year more explicitly).  They did not. The second reading had none of the wonder and joy of the first reading. And later, after coming across a review of Anno’s books written by Carol Hurst, I realized why. Carol writes:

Anno’s precise and detailed watercolors have the air of Japanese elegant simplicity. Most have a gentle humor waiting to be spotted. Not only that, but Anno’s books almost always have a strong mathematical connection. Don’t work them too hard, however. Leave some things for readers to discover on their own.

Anno’s Magic Seeds provides an excellent invitation to children to seek out meaning for themselves, mathematical or otherwise, if we let them. In our second reading, I was working the mathematical connections too hard and my children sensed this. And just like that, the magic, the wonder and joy,  was gone.

To anyone still reading, thank you for listening to our story about this magical math book. We hope you enjoy the magic of spring in the weeks to come and if you have any magical math books you want to share back with us, please go to the Shared booklist to find out how.


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Thanks and see you soon!  Touch #mathbookmagic, pass it on.

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