Series: Book Ideas

A Holiday with Too Many Tamales

holiday math activities

How is it possible to have too many tamales? Well, Maria finds out in the book Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto. In this holiday storybook, what starts out as a fun experience helping mama make tamales becomes a frantic search for mama’s wedding ring. But it’s in the search that Maria and her cousins are faced with the math concept of too many.

How much is too many? This question is mathematical, making us think of quantity.  What makes it too many turns our thoughts to the context of the problem. Twenty-four tamales was not too many for the family members that Maria and her parents were having over to celebrate Christmas, but when Maria and her 3 cousins had to eat the tamales to search for mama’s missing wedding ring, suddenly there were too many. Why – because the tummies of 4 children were not big enough to hold all those tamales.

Lots of questions come to mind as you can picture Maria, Delores, Teresa, and Danny eating their way through the mountain of tamales, hoping to find the ring with each bite. Was it a fair share? Did they all eat the same amount, or did someone eat more? What are the possible combinations of cousins and tamales that would get them to the total of 24 tamales? It sounds like a lot of number story possibilities could allow for a variety of solution strategies. Kindergartners might work with a smaller number of tamales, like 12, to focus on quantities connected to “ten and some more.” Older students might use the constraints of the story to help frame the problem. We know that “the first one was good, the second one pretty good, but by the third tamale, they were tired of the taste.