An Interview with Andrea Menotti, the author of How Many Jelly Beans?

I'll never forget when I showed a group of second graders How Many Jelly Beans? I could almost see thought bubbles popping up over their heads, shouting statements and commands like, "Please, please, please give the book to me. I need to read that book. He better pick me. I'm going to be so upset if he gives it to my neighbor. That book has my name written all over it. I will read it tonight and return it first thing in the morning." I closed my eyes and randomly selected a student. You would have thought he won Powerball or Lotto. He actually shouted, "Yay!"

If you have already read How Many Jelly Beans?, you understand why my students wanted to take it home. It is a brilliant counting and estimating romp that you'll want to read again and again.

I am honored to welcome Andrea Menotti to Watch. Connect. Read. to answer five questions about How Many Jelly Beans? Thank you, Andrea!

Mr. Schu: Thank you for dropping by Watch. Connect. Read. I’ve read How Many Jelly Beans? at least fifteen times and shared it with dozens of first-and second-grade students. It is fun watching kids count the jellybeans and discuss mathematics. What planted the seed for How Many Jelly Beans?

Andrea Menotti: There were a couple of seeds. First, having been a teacher and an editor of many space and science books, I knew that the concept of a million was an important one for kids to grasp. I had seen a variety of approaches to this concept (and I’d even developed some myself), but I hadn’t seen one that fully satisfied my desire to present a million “right before your eyes” and to build to that “wow finish” in a playful and dramatic way. I also have always loved jelly beans, and they’re colorful, so I knew the book could be a visual treat that would make the big numbers fun. For the “wow finish,” I thought it would be fun to do a gatefold that kept unfolding beyond the expected limits of a gatefold. Kind of like a clown-car gatefold! Chronicle is known for making books with special features, so I knew they would be up for the production challenge. So, all of those things came together, and the book was born!

Mr. Schu: I wish you were in my library the day the school secretary dropped off a box containing How Many Jelly Beans? I expected to pull out at least five books. Nope! Your book’s unique dimensions required an oversized box. How did you decide on its trim size?

Andrea Menotti: First, we wanted it to be “a giant book of giant numbers.” We wanted a “big experience” that would work well in a read-aloud context (we always imagined the book being read aloud by teachers and librarians). Also, we needed roughly 100,000 jelly beans to fit on one panel of the gatefold, and this was the size that made that possible without the jelly beans being too small to be appreciated.

Mr. Schu: My mouth dropped open when I unfolded the impressive gatefold. How long did it take to create it?

Andrea Menotti: We’re glad you liked it! Yancey spent about two weeks on the first draft of the gatefold. To build it, he put exactly 100,000 jelly beans on each panel, and then he had to make room for the characters and their dialogue, which meant moving thousands of individual jelly beans into spaces on other panels. It was pretty painstaking process because 1,000,000 objects is very hard for a computer to handle, especially for an older computer like Yancey’s was at the time. (He finally got a new one at the very end of the process.) Fortunately he is a very patient person.

Mr. Schu: How can educators use How Many Jelly Beans? in the classroom?

Andrea Menotti: I think a read-aloud would be a great beginning for a unit on “jelly bean math.” For preschool, counting and sorting activities would be a great follow-up to the read aloud (i.e. how many green jelly beans do you see in this picture?) For early-to-middle elementary children, there could be lots of different estimating activities with printed visuals. (We are planning to make some printables to post online that will help with this.) Children could also do a version of the exercise that Aiden does with 100,000 jelly beans with any number the teacher chooses (i.e. If they had 1,000 jelly beans, which flavors would they choose?) This would involve creating quantities of one, two, and three-digit numbers and adding them, making sure they sum to the assigned quantity.

We don’t discuss volume in the book, but since jelly beans are commonly associated with guess-how-many-jelly-beans-in-the-jar contests, that would also be a natural follow-up. Younger children could work on estimating with a variety of different objects and jar sizes. Older children who have studied volume could work on calculating the number of jelly beans in the jar by calculating the volume of the container and the volume of a jelly bean (using a cylinder). This would yield a rough answer that could then be checked against the real answer, and the reasons for the discrepancy could be discussed (air space, inexact measurement).

For a special treat, teachers could also show jelly bean art or the recent jelly bean stop-motion-animation video “In Your Arms” by Kina Grannis (created with 288,000 jelly beans). Then a color-by-number activity could result in their own piece of jelly bean art.

I have already seen some really cool blog posts from teachers and moms talking about how they’re using the book—it is really inspiring, and I am grateful that they are sharing their ideas. I am excited to see more!

*photo credit:100scopenotes

Scenario: A first grader raises his hand and asks, “Can you share three picture books you think I should read?” (By the way, he loves your book.)

Andrea Menotti: What a fun question! (It will be hard to choose just three, though.) For a fan of this book, I’d definitely recommend the classic in this genre, How Much is a Million by Steven Kellogg. It’s a lot of fun, and it goes beyond a million, to a billion and even a trillion. There are also a number of great books by Steve Jenkins for the mathematically inclined—one that deals with sizes (Actual Size, which allows you to compare your own hand to a gorilla’s hand, for example) and other mathematical concepts like time (Just a Second). Wait, that’s already three!

If I can recommend one more, I’d like to recommend a book called The Story of Snow by Mark Cassino and Jon Nelson, which explores the science of snowflakes. You can find out why the six is “the magic number” for snowflakes, and see just how small snowflakes are. I worked on it when I was at Chronicle, and it’s one of my favorites!

I am giving away one copy of How Many Jelly Beans?

Rules for the Giveaway

1. The giveaway will run from May 16 to 11:59 p.m. on May 19.

2. You must be at least 13 to enter.

3. Please pay it forward. :)

Download a counting game, a color game, a coloring game, and a matching game.

Borrow How Many Jelly Beans? from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.


  1. Wow! I'm not sure I have ever been more in love with a boko that I am have not read.


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