Toads and Tessellations book cover image

Toads and Tessellations

  • 1695

By: Sharon Morrisette / Illustrated by: Philomena O'Neill

To be a magician, or a mathematician?

Enzo is the son of a great magician, however unlike his father, his spells create chaos instead of order. What really interests Enzo, more than books about magic, are books by and about the lives of famous physicists and astronomers like Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler.

Enzo dreams not of becoming a magician, but a mathematician instead. When Tessel, the village shoemaker, is called upon to make twelve identical shoes out of only one piece of leather, Aida, the shoemaker’s sister, goes to Enzo’s father for some magic to help her brother. With Enzo’s father out of town at a magic convention, it’s up to Enzo to help Aida and Tessel out of their predicament. A spell snafu leads Enzo and Aida to a method of forming patterns without gaps or overlaps, and they discover that math, not magic, may be the answer to their problem.

Sharon Morisette’s accessible text introduces readers to the concept of tessellations, while Philomena O’Neill’s illustrations offer a clear visual to what tiling is—children will enjoy finding the tessellations hidden throughout the images. Back matter includes a glossary and notes about tessellations, Galileo, and Kepler.

Look Inside the Book:

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Sharon Morrisette, author

Sharon Morrisette has written on subjects from jet engines to semiconductor chips. Toads and Tessellations is her first children’s book. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Read more about Sharon.

Philomena O'Neill, illustrator

Philomena O'Neill has worked as an illustrator for more than 15 years. Equal Shmequal is her first book with Charlesbridge. She lives in Seattle, Washington.

Read more about Philomena.

Editorial Reviews:

Publishers Weekly

In an inventive but somewhat pedantic story about math, Enzo--a wizard's son--struggles to perform spells, which only results in messes. When Enzo's father is away, the miserly castle housekeeper demands that a shoemaker, Tessel, make 12 pairs of shoes for as many dancing princesses--and all from a single piece of leather. When Enzo tries to lend his magic to stretch the leather, he inadvertently transforms Tessel into a toad, and later a goat. Eventually, Enzo learns that he can use the concept of tessellation (tiling) to design and construct the shoes without leaving any leftover scraps of fabric. Though readers may struggle to understand tessellation from the story itself, a closing section provides further detail. O'Neill creates a cheery medieval Italian village with her light watercolors.

School Library Journal

Studying tessellations requires the energy of play and the focus of problem-solving, a wonderful subject for a story full of inspiration and blundering. Enzo is a magician's apprentice in late medieval Italy. His true passion is for the new ideas of mathematicians like Galileo and Kepler. As far as spell casting, he is no Strega Nona like his father. When the castle's housekeeper, renowned for her cruelty, requests 12 pairs of shoes to be made from one piece of fine leather for the 12 dancing princesses, the shoemaker Tessel comes running for Enzo's father, the local mago. He is away, so Enzo has to fill his shoes. He finds that using magic does not help when he inadvertently turns the shoemaker into a toad. Giving up on magic, he decides to take apart Tessel's shoe with Aida, the shoemaker's daughter. Once he turns to mathematics for inspiration, he and Aida begin to simplify the shapes, flip them, turn them, side, and rotate them. They create a perigon of triangles and before long (and with a few laughs), they use tessellations successfully to meet the housekeeper's challenge. The illustrated glossary and notes in the back matter explain the mathematics, history, and current use of tessellations. The watercolor illustrations clearly and astutely express the necessary concepts, both mathematical and historical. There is even some fun embedded in them: 26 hidden tessellations for Where's Wald fans.


The son of a "great mago," Enzo isn't a very good magician. Actually, he dreams of becoming "a grande matematico" like Galileo or Kepler. Enzo tries to help a shoemaker figure out how to cut the pieces for 12 shoes from a single piece of leather, but when he misspeaks a spell, he turns the craftsman into a toad, then a goat. Putting magic aside, Enzo looks at the problem geometrically, rearranges the shapes, and finds a way to cut the pieces with minimal waste. While the story presents informational content through whimsical fiction, the broadly dramatic line-and-watercolor illustrations could have been more helpful in clarifying the concept of tessellation, particularly in the main example of shoemaking. The information in the glossary and notes seems more appropriate for an older audience. Still, the story and back matter at least introduce the concept of tessellation to young children. For larger collections.


Download the Cover


ISBN: 978-1-58089-354-1

ISBN: 978-1-58089-355-8

ISBN: 978-1-60734-461-2 PDF
For information about purchasing E-books, click here.

Ages: 7-10
Page count: 32
81/2 x 91/2

If you like this book, you’ll enjoy these:
Pythagoras and the Ratios
Sir Cumference Math Adventures