If you're an elementary teacher, you've probably seen these two kinds of students in your classroom:
- Students who understand and enjoy math.
- Students who are frustrated by math because they don't understand it.
It's your job to help those in the second group find their way into the first group. Luckily, picture books about math can really help.
The 'Why' of Math Picture Books
It's human nature to enjoy stories. By relating to a character who feels the way they do, students can gain the confidence to move through their own challenges--both in and outside the classroom.
Even more importantly, there's a tangible link between reading and math. It stands to reason that doing one can help the other.
When teachers use picture books containing math themes (either implicit or explicit), they offer students a contextualized experience with mathematics generally.
Plus, a good story can comfort the heart of any student who's afraid of math.
Divide and Conquer: Picture Books by Mathematical Theme
Every teacher will have a favorite list of kid-friendly math books, from picture books to informational texts.
Here's ours, divided into thematic groups on counting, operations, measurement and fractions, patterns and shapes, graphing, and probability.
By-the-numbers counting books
These options help children explore numbers and what they stand for:
- Olivia Counts (Ian Falconer) - Kids' favorite pig is back, helping toddlers learn to count from one to ten. (pre-K+)
- Only One (Marc Harshman/Barbara Garrison) - Adventures at a county fair teach youngsters counting and number relationships. (pre-K+)
- The History of Counting (Denise Schmandt-Besserat) - Older kids will enjoy this fascinating cultural view of numbers and counting. (3 - 5)
- Uno, Dos, Tres: One Two Three (Pat Mora/Barbara Lavallee) - A bilingual approach to counting, with charming illustrations based on Mexican culture. (pre-K+)
Basic math operations books
Even before children enter elementary school, they can be well on their way to understanding math fundamentals with help from these titles:
- This Plus That: Life's Little Equations (Amy Krouse Rosenthal/Jen Corace) - Creative combinations that all add up to fun! (pre-K+)
- Elevator Magic (Stuart J. Murphy/G. Brian Karas/Frank Remkiewicz) - Adventures happen on every floor as the elevator descends and kids learn to subtract. (pre-K+)
- The Doorbell Rang (Pat Hutchins) - Fun ensues when a plate of cookies has to be divided among more and more guests. (pre-K+)
- Ten Sly Piranhas (William Wise/Victoria Chess) - The piranhas are disappearing! Counting backwards will show kids why. (K+)
- The Great Divide (Dayle Ann Dodds/Tracey Mitchell) - Eighty people start the race, but after some division action, the numbers change. (1st grade+)
- The Grapes of Math (Greg Tang/Harry Briggs) - Clever, engaging math puzzles that will nurture interest even in the math shy. (2nd grade+
Measurement and fractions books
Children are naturally curious about how things work, including the length of their fingers, how much juice can fit inside a bottle, and how modeling clay changes shape depending on their actions.
These books on measurement and fractions take advantage of that natural curiosity:
- How Big Is a Foot? (Rolf Myller) - An entertaining way to introduce both standard- and non-standard measurement to kids. (K+)
- Measuring Penny (Loren Leedy ) - In order for the main character to complete her homework, she has to measure her dog Penny in a variety of ways. (2nd grade+)
- Whole-y Cow! Fractions Are Fun (Taryn Souders/Tatjiana Mai-Wyss) - Through rhyme and visual cues, kids learn to distinguish which fraction the cow is teaching them. (1st grade+)
- Go Fractions! (Judith Bauer-Stamper) - Fun and math-related play ensue when the math teacher also coaches a soccer team named 'The Fractions.' (2nd grade+)
- Fractions, Decimals, and Percents (David Adler/Edward Miller) - This friendly but straightforward book has a lot of fun while shedding light on tricky math concepts. (3rd grade+)
Patterns and shapes books
Teachers (and parents) will love how these books help children build pattern recognition, pre-geometry skills, and spatial sense:
- Icky Bug Shapes (Jerry Pallotta/Shennen Bersani) - What better way to learn common geometrical shapes than with the help of some icky bugs? (pre-K+)
- Anno's Magic Seeds (Mitsumasa Anno) - It takes some doing to keep track of Jack's growing fortune, courtesy of magic seeds given to him by a wizard. (K+)
- Captain Invincible and the Space Shapes (Stuart J. Murphy) - Join the captain and his brave canine sidekick, Comet, as they encounter unique shapes in outer space. (1st grade+)
- The Village of Round and Square Houses (Ann Grifalconi) - This charming African tale also introduces geometrical ideas in a memorable way. (2nd grade+)
- The Amazing Book of Shapes (Lydia Sharman) - Through engaging photographs, illustrations, and explanations, children learn more about mathematical concepts and shapes. (2nd grade+)
- Sir Cumference and the First Round Table (Cindy Neuschwander/Wayne Geehan) - Before King Arthur and his knights can go to battle, they need a better table! (2nd grade+)
- Sir Cumference and the Great Knight of Angleland (Neuschwander/Geehan) - Sir Cumference's son Radius has to solve a puzzle using only a protractor--and help from the reader. (2nd grade+)
When children can interpret even simple graphs, they're better equipped to interpret the larger world of numbers too. These books can help:
- Lemonade for Sale (Stuart J. Murphy/Tricia Tusa) - While selling lemonade, four children also learn how to track their sales by creating a simple graph. (1st grade+)
- The Great Graph Contest (Loreen Leedy) - Follow the wild adventures of two graph-enthused animals as they create multiple diagrams and graphs. (1st grade+)
Probability and miscellaneous math-themed books
Encourage critical/analytical thinking through books that require a little estimation and/or probability:
- How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? (Margaret McNamara/G. Brian Karas) - Even younger children can engage in the art of estimation through this picture book. (pre-K+)
- A Three-Hat Day (Laura Geringer/Arnold Lobel) - While this story isn't actually about math, it offers a great lesson on probability--and on accepting others. (K+)
- The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery (Graeme Base) - Kids can help Horace the elephant solve a mystery--all with a good dose of mathematical reasoning. (K+)
- Betcha! (Stuart J. Murphy/S. D. Schindler) - Through this story, children learn that cars, jelly beans, and people all can be over- or under-estimated. (2nd grade+)
- The 'I Hate Mathematics!' Book (Martha Weston) - When it comes to math, even the most hardened skeptic can become a believer through this book. (5th grade+)
What are your favorite math-themed picture books? Share them with us in the comments below.