Ah, math… I personally loved math classes. The idea that there was one right answer and I could easily know if I was right or wrong really appealed to me. But, I know many people don’t feel the same way about math and worry about passing their feelings on to their kids, especially their girls. I also know from my teaching days that many parents are more than a little confused about “new math” and feel lost trying to help their children solve problems without just “putting a zero there” or “putting a little one up here.”
So, whether you love math and can’t wait to share that with your kiddos, you fall into the second group mentioned above, or your thoughts are somewhere in between, this post is for you! I searched high and low and read a TON of books about math to find the very best. I wanted books that were well-written and engaging, but that also a) used accurate mathematical thinking (for example, the number 10 is NOT a zero added to a one, which many a children’s book like to let kids think… Come on! 0 + 1 is 1, not 10!) and b) encouraged children to think in unique ways about numbers and other mathematical concepts.
Below, I’ve got a dozen delightful math books for your mathematical pleasure. Check them out, and then let me know if I missed any of your favorites!
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A Dozen Delightful Math Books
Goodnight, Numbers by Danica McKellar, illustrated by Alicia Padrón — A wonderfully mathematically focused bedtime story, you join a variety of children and their parents as they say goodnight to things around them and prepare for bed. Each page shows both the number digit and the spelled word, and gives children seek-and-find things to look for and count in the pictures. Be sure to spend time with the endpages here, as Padrón does a delightful job of showing children various ways to represent numbers 1-10. Fans of this might also enjoy McKellar’s Ten Magic Butterflies.
* Mathematical Focus: number recognition, one-to-one correspondance
* Target Audience: Ages 2 and up
Baby Goes to Market by Atinuke, illustrated by Angela Brooksbank — What do you get when you take a hungry baby to the market? Turns out, one fewer of each item than you intended to get! Without even realizing it, children will become eager mathematicians as they subtract one from every item that Mama tries to buy. This one’s simple and quick, but bright, engaging, and silly, bound to become a repeat hit in your house!
* Mathematical Focus: subtraction, one-to-one correspondance
* Target Audience: Ages 3 and up
Two by Kathryn Otoshi — More often read as a valuable social-emotional story than a math story, Two nonetheless has some important mathematical concepts for young children. Two and One are best friends. Best friends, that is, until 3 jumps in between them. Three invites One to play with the other odd numbers, leaving Two feeling left out. Full of fun plays-on-words like “Let’s get even with those Odds!” Two will lead to both important social conversations as well as open the door to talk about even and odd numbers. If you liked this one, be sure to check out the other books in Otoshi’s number series (One and Zero).
* Mathematical Focus: number recognition, odd and even numbers
* Target Audience: Ages 4 and up
How Much is a Million? by David Schwartz, illustrated by David Kellogg — For small children (and even some large children and adults…), understanding the scope of big numbers like a million, billion, or trillion is extremely difficult. Fortunately, Schwartz and Kellogg give us all tangible ways to wrap our minds around just how big these numbers are. Did you know that if you tried to count to a trillion it would take almost 200,000 years? Don’t worry, it only takes about 23 days to count to a million. Take a look at the Note From the Author at the back for a little information about the facts presented in the book.
* Mathematical Focus: understanding large numbers
*Target Audience: Ages 5 and up
One Hundred Angry Ants by Elinor J. Pinczes, illustrated by Bonnie MacKain — What happens when 100 hungry ants are trying to get to a picnic quickly, in order to ensure there is food left for them? Unfortunately for this particular group of ants, the littlest ant is convinced that he can get them there more quickly if they simply rearrange themselves from one long line, to 2 lines of 50, to 4 lines of 25, and so on… Will all of these stops to rearrange themselves really help them get to the picnic faster, or will they lose the precious time that the littlest ant is trying to help them save?
* Mathematical Focus: division, multiplication, skip counting
* Target Audience: Ages 5 and up
The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins — Ma is a much more fun mother than I am, as she makes cookies for her kids for snack on a whim… And lets them eat at many as they want! Victoria and Sam are thrilled to be able to share the dozen cookies, quickly figuring out that means they each get 6 cookies, when the doorbell rang. One by one, guests arrive, and Ma tells all the children, “You can share the cookies.” Young children will delight in the story, and because everyone’s invested when cookies are involved, they’ll eagerly work to figure out how many cookies each child gets.
* Mathematical Focus: division, fractions
* Target Audience: Ages 5 and up
12 Ways to Get to 11 by Eve Merriam, illustrated by Bernie Karlin — When counting to twelve, we find that 11 is missing. Young children then spend the rest of the book finding various ways that they can make 11 with what they see in the picture. Though there’s no real story in this one, so children aren’t as likely to as for it over and over again as many other books on this list, when presented with a math lesson, beyond the book craft or collecting project, or discussion about groups of things in nature, the mathematical learning and mental processing that this book fosters is wonderful.
* Mathematical Focus: addition, fact families
* Target Audience: Ages 5 and up
A Remainder of One by Elinor Pinczes, illustrated by Bonnie MacKain — Published *way back* in 1995, A Remainder of One is the story of a queen who demands that her 25-soldier insect army march in even lines. The problem, however, is that her army struggles to put themselves into even lines. Private Joe always seems to be left out! Division and remainders can be an incredibly abstract concept for children, but the arrays are presented visually for children, allowing them to truly see how the even line problem is being solved mathematically.
* Mathematical Focus: division (arrays and remainders, along with multiplication)
* Target Audience: Ages 5 and up
Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay Up Late (and the rest of the Bedtime Math series) by Laura Overdeck, illustrated by Jim Paillot — Presented perfectly for families with a range of children and ages, the Bedtime Math series is organized by spreads. On each spread, the family reads a short story together, and then children can choose from one of 3 problems to solve related to that story (Overdeck has divided these problems into “Wee ones,” “Little kids,” and “Big kids.” Rather than group the stories and problems by mathematical concept, the stories are separated into themed chapters (such as “Exploding Food” and “Extreme Vehicles.” I love that this series allows families to talk about and enjoy math together, in very small segments, whenever is convenient!
* Mathematical Focus: mental math, making math fun; addition, substraction, multiplication, division, time, and more
* Target Audience: Ages 5 and up (perfect for families with multiple ages of mathematicians)
Math Curse by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith — You know something from this duo is bound to be wonderful, and Math Curse lives up to those expectations! After his teacher tells, “You know, you can think of almost everything as a math problem,” our main character indeed starts to see everything in his life as a problem… But are they unwelcome or harmful things we need to deal with, or mathematical inquiries to work through? It’s up to the reader to decide! As you make your way through this one, your children will start to see that, indeed, math is all around us, in just about every aspect of our lives!
* Mathematical Focus: math all around us (covers algebraic thinking, time, fractions, money, measurement, and more)
* Target Audience: Ages 6 and up
The Grapes of Math (and the rest of Greg Tang’s math series) by Greg Tang, illustrated by Harry Briggs — Though Tang has a whole slew of mathematical picture books, The Grapes of Math is his first and easily my favorite. He calls this a book of “mind-stretching math riddles,” and that’s an incredibly accurate sub-title. Each spread presents a math puzzle with a challenge to readers to figure out the most efficient way to solve the problem. These creative puzzles push children to look for landmark numbers, group segments together for efficient counting, skip counting, and more, helping children develop their fluency and flexibility to make math easier.
* Mathematical Focus: mathematical flexibility, fluency, and problem solving (consistent across the series)
* Target Audience: Ages 7 and up
Sir Cumference and the First Round Table (and the rest of the Sir Cumference books) by Cindy Neuschwander, illustrated by Wayne Geehan — Sir Cumference and King Arthur have a big problem. When King Arthur sits down with his knights at his long, rectangular table, the knights on the ends end up having to shout down to the other end in order to be heard. Tasked with finding a better table for the group, Sir Cumference tries a handful of other designs (including square and octagon, and more!), before settling on a circle, the original “round table” for the knights. We also get a cheeky account of how diameter, radius, and circumference got those names. Other books in the series include fractions, 3D shapes, pi, angles, and more.
* Mathematical Focus: 2D geometry (other books in the series have different focuses)
* Target Audience: Ages 9 and up
For more information about using literature to engage children in mathematical learning, be sure to check out mathsthroughstories.org. This website was new to me when creating this list, but I found their information to be well-researched and thorough and look forward to digging deeper into all they’ve done!