Picture Books…In Math?

It’s National Reading Month and, as you know, I love using picture books in my teaching. I love it so much that I’ve even included picture books in my math lessons! There are books made specifically to teach math, such as Scholastic’s Math Mystery Mini-Books and the MathStart series, but there are so many others that are great to use as well. Today I’d like to share with you some of my favorite picture books to use when teaching math, both those written specifically for this purpose, and those which were written just for fun.

Among the Odds & Evens by Priscilla Turner

This book is a nice introduction to even and odd numbers, of course, but it is actually much more than that. The story starts out with two letters, X and Y, crashing into a town of numbers. They notice the many differences between the odd and even numbers and get a little judgmental about the way the numbers get together and reproduce. By the end of the story though the letters have learned an important lesson about accepting people for who they are and how different isn’t necessarily wrong or bad.

A Remainder of One by Elinor J. Pinczes

This delightful story about a group of soldier bugs putting on a parade for their queen explains how sometimes numbers can’t be divided evenly and one or more are left over, or remain. The group of 25 bugs starts out in two lines, but poor Joe is left out. Each day they try forming one more line, but Joe is consistently left standing alone. It is only when they reach five lines that Joe is able to be part of the group and all march happily together.

Sir Cumference books by Cindy Neushwander

I first found these books when I was searching for a literature tie-in for my geometry unit. Geometry is my worst math area and I was trying to find things to liven it up and explain the concepts in a different way for both me and my students. My students and I both loved Sir Cumference, and the way Neushwander explains the math concepts made them easier for us all to understand. There’s even a book of classroom activities to help you creatively integrate the books into your lesson plans.

Gator Pie by Louise Mathews

This book is an old one (copyright 1979), but a good one. In it two alligators, Alvin and Alice, find a pie and decide to share it. Each time they prepare to cut the pie (first in half, then thirds, then fourths…), more gators arrive wanting a slice as well. Poor Alvin and Alice have to continually figure out how to cut a new number of even slices from a single pie. It’s a great introduction to fractions, and the illustrations show how the size of the individual pieces actually gets smaller as the denominator of the fraction gets larger. My students always laugh and laugh as we read the story, and it makes a great start to our factions unit.

The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble With Money by Stan & Jan Berenstain, “Smart” by Shel Silverstein, Alexander Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst

American money, especially our coins, is not easy to learn. My English language learners and I spend a lot of time practicing our skills with money, and we love to read stories as we do. We talk about how “smart” the boy really is in Shel Silverstein’s poem, learn along with Brother and Sister Bear as they spend their money, talk about money idioms, and then earn their own money; and sympathize with poor Alexander who has only bus tokens in his pocket. The stories are all funny, totally relatable to my students, and they provide a welcome break from all of the math and vocabulary practice that goes with this unit.

The Five-Dog Night by Eileen Christelow

Writing algebraic expressions is a difficult skill to master for all students, but especially English language learners. Not only do they have to figure out how to translate words into numbers and symbols, they have to try and understand the words first! This last book is a great way to introduce the concept with a fun story about a lonely old bachelor named Ezra and his neighbor Betty. Betty can’t understand why Ezra always says he doesn’t need blankets, but the pictures reveal the answer Betty won’t discover until the end of the book. After reading the story, the students and I work together to write an equation that will help Ezra determine how many dogs he’ll need each night to stay warm. It’s a fun exercise and helps to lower their anxiety about the work to come.

The truth is I could list many other picture books to use when teaching math, but I won’t. I encourage you to give some of these a try, and seek out others you and your students can enjoy together as well. Be sure and let me know what your own favorites are, or become! Happy teaching, everyone.