I will admit, I loved math as a kid. Wait, I loved math after I finally mastered borrowing – for some unknown reason, that was a major challenge for me, enough so that I remember it 30+ years later. But algebra, loved it. So I want my kids to feel comfortable with math and to enjoy it. The problem is, math is not as simple as it used to be, or at least, it doesn’t feel like it. By trying to make math accessible to everyone and to a variety of different learning types, they have somehow made it more complicated, especially to parents! But at least there are a number of picture books that attempt to bring some fun back to learning math.
The book that inspired me to write about this is Let’s Estimate: A Book About Estimating and Rounding Numbers, by David A. Adler. I am going to start of by saying that it would have made more sense to title this book about rounding numbers instead of estimating, but it does talk about both things, their similarities and their differences. The best page in this book is when it defines the two concepts and explains that “estimating is not rounding. Rounding is not estimating. But rounding can help you to estimate.” The majority of this book focuses on place value and how to round numbers, but with a colorful cast of dinosaurs, it is a great book for the K-2 crowd.
There is a marvelous series called Math is CATegorical, by Brian Cleary. Cleary is also the genius behind the Words are CATegorical books that help kids understand different parts of speech. Titles like This Mission of Addition, The Action of Subtraction, and A Dollar, a Penny, How Much and How Many? cover a wide scope of topics. His books are fun and full of rhymes and get kids enjoying their math. For children learning the basic concepts, these books are fabulous! Whether learning what addition and subtraction are or tackling money and time, these books are wacky enough that kids don’t really think about the learning that they are doing when they read or listen to these titles. Even fractions can be explained to younger audiences. Most of these are available in the Kindle Unlimited program, so you can take a look at them yourself!
For slightly older kids, Mission Addition and Subtraction Action, by Loreen Leedy, takes a group of kids in a classroom and puts together stories that require them to do some form of math. There are usually 5 different “missions” that the children is Miss Prime’s class need to solve. Apparently, the first book in the series was actually Fraction Action. The special part of these books is that they take real life scenarios to help children solve problems and to understand that math is a part of their daily lives.
Another wonderful series that we thankfully have a number of in our local library, is the MathStart series. These books are separated into 3 levels ranging from Pre-K through 4th grade topics and help children who are visual learners. These books tell stories that just so happen to also include math topics. Rather then focus on the problems themselves, they kindly introduce concepts. For example, the book Monster Musical Chairs introduces subtraction at its very simplest. Let’s Fly a Kite tackles symmetry and cooperation. Divide and Ride introduces the concept of division in a story set at an amusement park sure to engage kids, while Lemonade For Sale introduces bar graphs while telling a story of a lemonade stand.
So looking away from series, there are lots of stand-alone books that are great fun as well. For those just learning their numbers, Danica McKeller (actress turned math whiz) recently published Goodnight, Numbers. This sweet bedtime story is one of those earliest counting books that help children understand the concept of numbers. There is even a page in the back of the book to help new parents and caregivers understand the best way to get the most from the books.
Counting books are really important to get basic concepts to kids. I love 1, 2, 3…By The Sea, by Dianne Moritz for this as well. What is nice about her book is that it is something of a story and something of a counting book, with imagery that is more detailed making it a little bit harder for children to find all of the items that they are supposed to be looking for.
Back on the estimating front as well on the skip-counting, there is the book How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin, by Margaret McNamera. This book works fabulously for a math or science curriculum because it has the children exploring how to figure out how many seeds are in pumpkins and gives them scientific facts about pumpkins. This is also a wonderful story to use during the fall months when everyone has gone pumpkin crazy!
For fairy-tale loving kids, Twinderella: A Fractioned Fairy Tale, by Corey Rosen Schwartz, is a lot of fun. This tale imagines that Cinderella is actually a twin and she and her sister, Tinderella, use math to divide up their chores and dream of more space and less work. The rhymes in the book are wonderful and the characters use their brains to figure the best way to deal with their situations. We are used to “fractured” fairy tales, but I love the word play on this to be a “fractioned” fairy tale. This makes me happy as a combo of math and fairy tales!
Another really fun book that teaches about raising money is Miss Fox’s Class Earns a Field Trip, by Eileen Spinelli. In this book, Miss Fox’s class is trying to raise money to go on a field trip to an amusement park. They come up with a variety of methods to raise the money, but each fund-raising attempt ends in disaster involving Percy P. Possum, the school’s visiting author. The animal cast is constantly adding and subtracting their earnings, but will they ever make it to Roller Coaster Planet?
One final book for older kids, is Lucky Beans by Becky Birtha. In this book, math and history come together in a story that is based on Birtha’s grandmother’s memories of life during the Depression. The mathematical portion comes when Marshall is trying to figure out how many beans are in a jar in order to help his mother win a sewing machine. This book looks at estimating, volume, and multiplication in a real life application. There is also a great amount of ingenuity and problem solving going on. A great story that highlights math, the history of the Great Depression, and the strength and perseverance people needed to get through tough times.
It is a great option to bring math into children’s lives through picture books. They can see real life applications and visualize the process.