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Tanita Davis: The Shortfalls of "Twice As Good" (Dyscalculia)



This week's post comes with a


Tanita is generously offering a reading-group set of 5 copies to one lucky winner!

Just comment below with the words 'HENRI WELDON.'

Or tweet us those words over at @novelmindkidlit.


Few things revealed my deficiencies more than splitting a bill at a restaurant. Deprecatingly self-described as “terrible with money,” I was the girl whose college friends told her how much to pitch in. With people I didn’t know well, I made the excuse of needing to “write down expenditures,” so my laborious on-paper calculations mostly passed without comment… until a dinner with a guy from my Medieval Lit course.

When the waitress brought the bill, I immediately grabbed a notepad from my purse.

“Whatcha doing?” he asked, interrupting himself to peer at my column of numbers. I mumbled something about budgets and hoped he would focus on getting out his own share of the check. Instead, he leaned in, frowning.

“You’re… Wait – what are you doing? That’s not how you carry zeroes.”


Many of my generation who identify as Black know the phrase “Twice as good.” You have to be twice as good to get half of what they have. You have to work twice as hard to have half their opportunities. The one I heard was, “You have to be twice as good to get half as far.” Sometimes that exhortation is a spark to the flame of nothing’s gonna stop us now, but what if you’re working as hard as you can, and you still can’t get anywhere?

Throughout school – even college and graduate school – I carried a deep shame that even with all of my striving, I still couldn’t consistently apply basic mathematical operations like how to borrow, or carry, or to add long numbers, or to divide. I camouflaged, working twice as hard to appear half as competent, intelligent, and most of all, worthy, in every other way.But the deficit always poisoned the rest, and any confidence I had was a thin veneer that cracked with the slightest pressure.

Fast forward to a hometown graduation years later, where I unexpectedly encountered my third-grade teacher. She blurted my name and grabbed my hands, not in greeting, but to draw me urgently to the edge of the crowd. When we reached a quiet corner she said intensely, “I was hoping to see you. I have to apologize. I am so, so sorry. You have a learning disability, and I didn’t realize it.”

Continued education courses and a dyslexic child of her own had finally revealed what she had years before. Her apology stunned me – for though I had only passed College Algebra via daily tutoring with the professor, the idea that I wasn’t at fault had never entered my mind. Not when the maxim of me needing to work twice as hard reverberated with every lackluster math test.

“Twice as good” fails when it refuses to acknowledge our other very real accomplishments in the face of missing the mark of perfection in every single thing. It teaches shame because that is what perfectionism inevitably becomes. “Twice as good” doesn’t acknowledge that failure is a pre-requisite to success, that fumbles and flops are building stamina that might not place you on the honor roll but will give persistence and grit that you can carry into life. “Twice as good” turns the spotlight of our hopes and our dreams for ourselves outward and puts the central focus on an anonymous “them.”

When I wrote Figure It Out, Henri Weldon, I wanted to finally say the “quiet part” of my life out loud, to acknowledge the me who will never be “twice as good” at math, and who turned away from seeing and celebrating her whole self, for far too long. I wanted to recognize the girl who spent long recesses indoors, correcting and redoing. I wanted to befriend the girl who sweated through the checkout line at the market, who worked out a tip three different times and often arrived at three different answers.

I wanted to spotlight all the students who feel like they’re letting themselves down by not excelling in such a necessary field. I want to say, “we have other gifts.” Given time and space, and the encouragement to love our whole selves, we can – we will! – figure them out.

And, if we’re lucky, someday in turn we’ll be able to give that gift of seeing and being understood to someone else.


Tanita S Davis wanted to be a librarian until she figured out she would not, in fact, be paid to read. Recovering slowly from this cruel disappointment, she went on to write six novels for middle grade and young adults, including Serena Says, Peas and Carrots, Happy Families, and Mare's War, which was a Coretta Scott King Award Honor book, and earned her a nomination for an NAACP Image Award.

Tanita writes from California where she really needs to sort out her TBR pile.



This week's post comes with a


Tanita is generously offering a reading-group set of 5 copies to one lucky winner!

Just comment below, with the words 'HENRI WELDON.'

(Or tweet us those words over at @novelmindkidlit.)


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