Last to Finish
A Story about the Smartest Boy in Math Class

written by Barbara Esham
illustrated by Mike & Carl Gordon

Barbara Esham's Last to Finish – A Story about the Smartest Boy in Math Class
illustrated by Mike & Carl Gordon

Book review by Dimitrios Sokolakis

Ages 6-10

A children's book about comprehension vs. memorization

As I read this story, the following quote came to my mind: “Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.” Does it ring a bell for you who wrote it? Well, it was Albert Einstein in a letter sent to a high school student named Barbara Lee Wilson.

Max Leonhard, the story’s lead character, struggles with math anxiety in contrast to his classmate, David Peterson, who’s able to finish everything first, including math tests. But which one is the Albert Einstein (and who’s the Barbara Lee Wilson) between the two?

Review - Last to Finish – A Story about the Smartest Boy in Math Class

Let’s see then: Max Leonhard is a 3rd grader living in a typical family with a father engineer, a protective mother, an older brother and a dog. Since his father is an engineer he always thought that math would be the key to his future. Actually, when he takes his time, Max is a rather competent math student. However an event occurs in school that destroys Max’s confidence.

Mrs. Topel, the school’s teacher, brings a timer to class so as to test the pupils on their multiplication tables. Max develops test anxiety when the terrible tick-tick-tick starts. His heart begins to pound, his hands begin to sweat and, most importantly, his mind freezes. As a result, Max doesn’t manage to finish his problems on time.

David Peterson, his classmate who keeps finishing first, starts to tease Max. “Max, Max last in math,” he chants loudly and their classmates start becoming his choir. Could this get any worse for Max? Well, actually it could. Returning home, he realizes that he lost his math folder, disappointing his mom and dad.

And then, Mrs Topel and Mr. Singleton (i.e. the principal) ask his parents to attend a meeting about Max’s math performance.

A few days later a nervous Max and his encouraging parents attend the conference. “We thought it was important that we discuss Max’s math ability with you,” Mrs. Topel, who found Max’s math folder, says. ”Ability?” Max is puzzled; oh, “I guess it’s the lack of ability we’ll be talking about.” “How long has Max been practicing Algebra I?” the principal asks. “Algebra I?” his parents wonder, “He is only in third grade,” they say, turning to Max.

“Algebra is something I do for fun,” Max says, revealing that he borrows his brother’s Algebra I textbook sometimes to practice. (Okay, officially, I hate Max). All are astonished, and Mr. Singleton explains: “Max is the type of math student who understands how numbers work together… if I could choose between understanding or memorizing, I would rather have students understand mathematics.”

Then Mr. Singleton suggests to Max’s parents that he join a program for accelerated math students, as well as join the math team. “Let’s give it a try,” Max's dad says proudly. “Well, under one condition,” Max chimes in....

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but let's just say there might be a new Einstein in our midst.

Last to Finish – A Story about the Smartest Boy in Math Class strengths:

If you are looking for a story about how to excel in standardized testing, then this is definitely not the book for you. The story endorses comprehension over memorization and beating the clock.

Last to Finish is an encouraging story, pointing out that kids learn differently and, also, that if you take your time, you can actually find fun in things (like mathematics) that otherwise frustrate you

The book offers great guidance to parents wishing to help their kids find their way in life and overcome fear of failure. It’s a great reading for kids having a lack of self esteem in a really sensitive age where they can get easily disappointed with the first trouble in school.

Illustrations are fitting; I really liked the part where Max says, “My mind freezes,” and you see him with a snowman’s head. A+ for that.


Last to Finish: A Story About the Smartest Boy in Math Class is a distinctive story that makes its feel-good point!

Max from Last to Finish, smartest boy in math class

Read more of Dimitrios's reviews.

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