Good picture books are an great way to open mathematical discussions with children. There are quite a quite a few excellent ones that correlate with mathematical topics, such as counting, beginning division, multiplication, even the notion of “zero.” We recommend choosing those that also feature engaging stories,inviting language, and high-quality illustrations. Here are a few to introduce to your young learners as you explore all kinds of math concepts–and relish the pleasures of good books at the same time.
One Child, One Seed: A South African Counting Book by Kathryn Cave and Gisele Wulfsohn (Photographer)
More than a counting book, One Child, One Seed is also a fascinating exploration of South African community living. The beautiful photographs are artistically arranged on the pages to help tell the story of a seed’s life, and also entice readers to intriguing counting opportunities. Details of life are also woven into the story, as we have the chance to explore the games, transportation, rituals, and home culture of the village. We are even provided with a recipe for isijingi, the pumpkin stew that is eaten at the traditional harvest feast. Simple rhyming text makes this universal story a great readaloud.
Two of Everything: A Chinese Folktale by Lily Toy Hong
Both humorous and wise, this folktale tells the story of a magic pot that doubles whatever is placed in it. Discovered by a poor farmer, it seems to be a great gift for him and his wife, who duplicate coin purses and enough gold to fill their hut. But their fortune changes again when they fall into the pot—and create their own doubles! How will they come to a successful resolution of their new life situation? With quick-thinking, and lots of humor thrown in. Beautiful illustrations, mostly in greens and blues, are simple and clear—very fitting for the folktale genre. And the roly poly people are just plain charming.
A Place for Zero: A Math Adventure by Angeline Sparagna Lopresti and Phyllis Hornung
It’s fun to introduce the properties of zero to early readers in a story format. Poor zero! He feels sad and left out among the other digits. In the course of the tale, he meets intriguing mathematical characters like Count Infinity, and readers are introduced to all the ways we rely on the concept of nothing—and its role in place value, infinity, and numerical operations overall. While some concepts will be beyond the youngest readers, it’s still a wonderful preview of mathematical adventurers to come. The illustrations are bright and appealing, and much enjoyed by kindergarten through grade three children.
I Spy Two Eyes: Numbers in Art by Lucy Micklethwait
Is this a book of art appreciation—or a counting book? Luckily for readers, it’s both! On the left-hand page are the numbers (written both as words and symbols) and an object to count, and on the right page is a fine art painting reproduction so the reader can find the object and count each one. Kids really enjoy hunting for the items in the pictures—and it’s a great way for them to closely explore the art. The pictures selected represent a range of artistic styles and are well-displayed and reproduced.
Ten Sly Piranhas by William Wise and Victoria Chess
This counting backward book is a terrific readaloud, with its enticing rhyme and rhythm. It’s a clever and humorous story about a group of devious fish—pink piranhas—who “with a gulp and a gurgle” devour one another. . .until there is one last piranha left. He, too, meets his fate when a crocodile enters “and then there were none.” The watercolor and pen and ink illustrations are a treat, as they depict the river jungle environment and lots of critters including turtles, snakes, toucans, and frogs.
Each Orange Had 8 Slices by Paul Giganti illustrated by Donald Crews
Bright and enticing illustrations are the greatest draw of this book. But this vibrant little book is more than beautiful; it’s also a wonderful introduction to mathematical thinking. Patterning, multiplication, and creative problem-solving are all within its pages as well as counting, which makes it a wonderful book or multiage classrooms as well as families with children of different ages. There’s something mathematical for kids from kindergarten through about grade three—and the gorgeous illustrations are for all ages.
The Coin Counting Book by Rozanne Lanczak Williams
Coins are a tangible, hands-on, and enjoyable way to explore the concept of money—as well as mathematical ideas like grouping, counting, and creating equivalent values. The illustrations are clear and accessible photographs that children can pore over. The simple rhymes are engaging, too. The book itself is large and easy to handle, making it ideal for young children to explore.
A Remainder of One by Elinor J Pinczes illustrated by Bonnie MacKain
Twenty-five beetles are on parade in this rhyming picture book which also serves as a fine introduction to the concept of division. The blue bug queen “likes to keep things tidy,” so approves the two-by-two formation o the parade. . .except when she sees one is left over! This last bug, Joe, ends up being a “remainder,” and to solve his dilemma, he tries out various formations: by three, by fours,–and finally one that works for him—by fives. The bugs are big, blue, and friendly looking, though each is unique.
365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet
This lively and funny book is a French import and brings its own unique feel in both art and writing. Penguins start arriving, one a day, for a full year. How does the family deal with this penguin onslaught? Over the year, as penguins run amok in the house, the father decides to organize them—in boxes, by dozens, and even cubic formation. The art is stunning, with comical birds shown in large, bright illustrations. There’s an important ecological lesson, too, taught by the children’s scientist Uncle Victor. Besides the fascinating mathematical problem solving, the book has a fun—and funny—narrative line. Younger readers love to search for Little Chilly–with his vibrant blue feet—on each page.
City by Numbers by Stephen T. Johnson
This picture book features realistic paintings of an urban cityscape. Numbers are hidden throughout the paintings, but you have to look closely at the architecture to find them. For example, the numeral 8 is created by two trashcan rims side by side. It’s a wonderfully creative and artistic book that adults will enjoy for the fascinating architectural detail and beautifully-rendered drawing. A wonderful book to share with the whole family—or classroom.