Math for the Young Set

There are all kinds of ways to bring math into a young child’s life. You can count birds out­side the win­dow. You can talk about shapes and give them names. Dis­cuss mea­sure­ments while cooking.

Our favorite way is to read sto­ries and look at pic­ture books, absorb­ing math con­cepts eas­i­ly. Here are some of our favorites for chil­dren ages 4 and up, some for younger kids, some old­er, because age does­n’t mat­ter as much as interest.

One plus One equals Five

1+1=5: and Oth­er Unlike­ly Addi­tions
writ­ten by David LaRochelle
illus­trat­ed by Bren­da Sex­ton
Union Square Kids, 2010

How much is 1+1? Think the answer is 2? Not always, as this play­ful approach to addi­tion proves! David LaRochelle takes chil­dren on a joy­ful math­e­mat­i­cal jour­ney that will engage their minds and teach them to think about num­bers in a cre­ative, out­side-the-box way. Bren­da Sex­ton’s wild and wacky illus­tra­tions add lay­ers of wit­ty fun to LaRochelle’s clever game. These wacky equa­tions don’t add up … or do they?

1 goat + 1 uni­corn = 3 horns!
1 set of triplets + 1 set of twins = 5 babies!
1 duet + 1 quar­tet = 6 musi­cians!
1 ant + 1 spi­der = 14 legs!
1 cen­tu­ry + 1 decade = 110 years!

12 Ways to Get to Eleven
writ­ten by Eve Mer­ri­am
illus­trat­ed by Bernie Kar­lin
Simon & Schus­ter, 1993

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 __ 12 What hap­pened to 11?

Is it in the magi­cian’s hat? Maybe it’s in the mail­box or hid­ing in the jack‑o’-lantern? Don’t for­get to look in the barn­yard where the hen awaits the arrival of her new lit­tle chicks. Could that be where eleven went?

100 Mighty Drag­ons All Named Broc­coli
writ­ten by David LaRochelle
illus­trat­ed by Lian Cho
Dial Books, 2023

High on a moun­tain live 100 mighty drag­ons all named Broc­coli. When a tremen­dous wind blows half the drag­ons away, ten oth­ers sail off to become pro­fes­sion­al surfers in Hawaii. The old­est and youngest drag­ons take a train to New York City to start their own heavy met­al band. And a mys­te­ri­ous wiz­ard turns four more into a uni­corn, a were­wolf, a zom­bie, and a tiny pink poo­dle. Now how many drag­ons are left? Young read­ers will delight in fol­low­ing each and every drag­on as they leave their home for mar­velous adven­tures, until there is but one drag­on remain­ing. That’s when this final drag­on named Broc­coli retreats to a cave for the win­ter and reap­pears in the spring with a sur­prise that will thrill and delight. Pre­pare to read again!

Anno’s Count­ing Book
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Mit­suma­so Anno
Thomas Y. Crow­ell, 1977

Every child is a nat­ur­al math­e­mati­cian, accord­ing to Mit­sumasa Anno. Chil­dren are con­stant­ly com­par­ing and clas­si­fy­ing things and events they observe around them. As they try to bring sense and order into what they observe, they are actu­al­ly per­form­ing basic math­e­mat­i­cal feats.

Gen­tle water­col­or pic­tures show a land­scape chang­ing through the var­i­ous times of day and the turn­ing sea­sons, months and years, and the activ­i­ties of the peo­ple and ani­mals who come to live there. But the seem­ing­ly sim­ple plan of the book is decep­tive: look more care­ful­ly and you will see one-to-one cor­re­spon­dences; groups and sets; scales and tab­u­la­tions; changes over time peri­ods; and many oth­er math­e­mat­i­cal rela­tion­ships as they occur in nat­ur­al, every­day liv­ing. The read­er is sub­tly led to see and under­stand the real mean­ing of numbers.

Block­head: The Life of Fibonac­ci
writ­ten by Joseph D’Ag­nese
illus­trat­ed by John O’Brien
Hen­ry Holt, 2010

As a young boy in medieval Italy, Leonar­do Fibonac­ci thought about num­bers day and night. He was such a day­dream­er that peo­ple called him a blockhead.

When Leonar­do grew up and trav­eled the world, he was inspired by the num­bers used in dif­fer­ent coun­tries. Then he real­ized that many things in nature, from the num­ber of petals on a flower to the spi­ral of a nau­tilus shell, seem to fol­low a cer­tain pattern.

The boy who was once teased for being a block­head had dis­cov­ered what came to be known as the Fibonac­ci Sequence!

Each Orange Had 8 Slices: A Count­ing Book
writ­ten by Paul Gigan­ti, Jr.
illus­trat­ed by Don­ald Crews
Green­wil­low Books, 1992

If each orange has 8 slices and each slice has 2 seeds, then how many seeds are there in all? You’ll have fun mul­ti­ply­ing, adding, and count­ing your way through the math puz­zles hid­ing in the world all around you.

Clear and col­or­ful art­work by Don­ald Crews, the award-win­ning cre­ator of Freight Train and Truck, gives young read­ers help­ful hints to solve the engag­ing and age-appro­pri­ate word problems.

Fan­nie in the Kitchen: The Whole Sto­ry from Soup to Nuts of How Fan­nie Farmer Invent­ed Recipes with Pre­cise Mea­sure­ments
writ­ten by Deb­o­rah Hop­kin­son
illus­trat­ed by Nan­cy Car­pen­ter
Atheneum, 2001

Mar­cia enjoys being her moth­er’s helper, so she’s hurt when Moth­er hires Fan­nie Farmer to pre­pare fam­i­ly’s meals. But sure enough Fan­nie’s charm (and grid­dle cakes!) win Mar­cia over, and she finds her­self cook­ing up delights she nev­er thought possible!

Follow the Line

Fol­low the Line
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Lau­ra Ljungkvist
Viking Books, 2006

Fol­low the line on a jour­ney from the city to the coun­try, from the sky to the ocean, from morn­ing till night. Lau­ra Ljungkvist uses her trade­mark con­tin­u­ous line style to cre­ate the per­fect count­ing book for young chil­dren. Each scene con­tains ques­tions designed to get chil­dren look­ing, count­ing, and think­ing. For exam­ple, in the under­wa­ter pic­ture, chil­dren can count seashells, tur­tles, and the legs on an octo­pus. Each page is packed with col­or­ful, art­ful objects and ani­mals — and young coun­ters can fol­low the line from the front cov­er to the back cov­er, through each stun­ning scene.

How Do Dinosaurs Count to Ten?
writ­ten by Jane Yolen
illus­trat­ed by Mark Teague
Blue Sky Press, 2004

Come along for some BIG fun as your favorite dinosaurs delight young read­ers with their play­ful antics. How do dinosaurs count to ten? Over and over and over again!This brand new board book for­mat brings the gigan­tic humor of best­selling, award-win­ning team Jane Yolen and Mark Teague to the youngest read­ers, help­ing them learn to count from one to ten with a sim­ple, rhyming text and laugh-out-loud illustrations!

Inch by Inch
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Leo Lion­ni
Astor-Hon­or, Inc., 1960

A small green inch­worm is proud of his skill at mea­sur­ing any­thing — a robin’s tail, a flamingo’s neck, a toucan’s beak. Then one day a nightin­gale threat­ens to eat him if he can­not mea­sure his song. Chil­dren will enjoy the clever inchworm’s solu­tion and delight in find­ing the tiny hero on every page. Calde­cott Hon­or book.

Lemon­ade in Win­ter:
A Book about Two Kids Count­ing Mon­ey

writ­ten by Emi­ly Jenk­ins
illus­trat­ed by G. Bri­an Karas
Anne Schwartz Books, 2012

A lemon­ade stand in win­ter? Yes, that’s exact­ly what Pauline and John-John intend to have, sell­ing lemon­ade and limeade – and also lemon-limeade. With a catchy refrain (Lemon lemon LIME, Lemon LIMEADE! Lemon lemon LIME, Lemon LEMONADE!), plus sim­ple math con­cepts through­out, here is a read-aloud that’s great for sto­ry­time and class­room use.

My Rows and Piles of Coins
writ­ten by Tolol­wa M. Mol­lel
illus­trat­ed by E.B. Lewis
Clar­i­on Books, 1999

I emp­tied my secret mon­ey box, arranged the coins in piles and the piles in rows … ” The mar­ket is full of won­der­ful things, but Saruni is sav­ing his pre­cious coins for a red and blue bicy­cle. How hap­py he will be when he can help his moth­er car­ry heavy loads to mar­ket on his very own bicy­cle — and how dis­ap­point­ed he is to dis­cov­er that he hasn’t saved near­ly enough! Deter­mi­na­tion and gen­eros­i­ty are at the heart of this sat­is­fy­ing tale set in Tan­za­nia and illus­trat­ed with glow­ing water­col­ors that cap­ture the warmth of Saruni’s fam­i­ly and the excite­ment of mar­ket day.

One Grain of Rice: A Math­e­mat­i­cal Folk­tale
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Demi
Scholas­tic Press, 1997

Long ago in India, there lived a raja who believed that he was wise and fair. But every year he kept near­ly all of the peo­ple’s rice for him­self. Then when famine came, the raja refused to share the rice, and the peo­ple went hun­gry. Then a vil­lage girl named Rani devis­es a clever plan. She does a good deed for the raja, and in return the raja lets her choose her reward. Rani asks for just one grain of rice, dou­bled every day for thir­ty days. Through the sur­pris­ing pow­er of dou­bling, one grain of rice grows into more than one bil­lion grains of rice — and Rani teach­es the raja a les­son about what it tru­ly means to be wise and fair.Demi’s exquis­ite­ly detailed art, inspired by tra­di­tion­al Indi­an minia­ture paint­ings, com­bine with her sim­ple retelling to con­vey the heart and wis­dom of this sat­is­fy­ing math­e­mat­i­cal tale.

One is a Snail, Ten is a Crab: A Count­ing by Feet Book
writ­ten by April Pul­ley Sayre and Jeff Sayre
illus­trat­ed by Randy Cecil
Can­dlewick Press, 2003

What do one hun­dred sun­bathing snails have in com­mon with ten crabs in inner tubes? Check out this mirth­ful count­ing book with a focus on feet.

If one is a snail and two is a per­son, we must be count­ing by feet! Just fol­low the sign to the beach, where a bunch of fun-lov­ing crabs, loung­ing dogs, glee­ful insects, and bewil­dered-look­ing snails oblig­ing­ly offer their feet for count­ing in a num­ber of sil­ly, sur­pris­ing com­bi­na­tions — from one to one hundred!

The Rab­bit Prob­lem
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Emi­ly Gravett
Simon & Schus­ter 2010

How does 1+1 = 288? A fam­i­ly of rab­bits soon sup­plies the answer in this fun­ny sto­ry! Hop along to Fibonac­ci’s Field and fol­low Lone­ly and Chalk Rab­bit through a year as they try to cope with their fast expand­ing brood and han­dle a dif­fer­ent sea­son­al chal­lenge each month, from the cold of Feb­ru­ary to the wet of April and the heat of July. This extra­or­di­nary pic­ture book is packed with gor­geous details and nov­el­ty ele­ments includ­ing a baby rab­bit record book, a car­rot recipe book and a sur­prise pop-up ending.

Shape Search
writ­ten by Melis­sa Stew­art
Rey­craft Books, 2024

Nature is a mas­ter­piece of shapes wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered! In Melis­sa Stew­art’s enchant­i­ng book, “Shape Search,” embark on a jour­ney through the wilder­ness of geom­e­try. Ever noticed the cir­cle in a spi­der’s web, the rec­tan­gle in a bug’s body, or the star in a bloom­ing flower? Let’s dive into the won­ders of the nat­ur­al world and unrav­el its hid­den secrets! Shape Search High­lights: Cir­cle of Life: From spi­der webs to dew­drops, cir­cles are nature’s way of remind­ing us of the inter­con­nect­ed­ness of all liv­ing things. Rec­tan­gu­lar Real­i­ties: Bugs, leaves, and even cer­tain rocks show­case the beau­ty of rec­tan­gles, teach­ing us the impor­tance of struc­ture and sta­bil­i­ty. Stel­lar Cre­ations: Flow­ers, snowflakes, and seashells exhib­it star-shaped pat­terns, reflect­ing the bril­liance of sym­me­try in the uni­verse. Your Turn to Explore: Look around you! What shapes can you find in your surroundings?

Snow­man — Cold = Pud­dle
writ­ten by Lau­ra Pur­die Salas
illus­trat­ed by Micha Archer
Charles­bridge, 2019

Math meets metaphor in this eye-open­ing explo­ration of spring. Each clever equa­tion is a tiny, per­fect poem that prompts read­ers to look at the ordi­nary and see the mirac­u­lous. Can you look at an egg in a nest and see a jew­el­ry box? How are sun­light and heat like an alarm clock? Engag­ing side­bars reveal the sci­ence behind the signs of spring.

Swirl by Swirl: Spi­rals in Nature
writ­ten by Joyce Sid­man
illus­trat­ed by Beth Krommes
Clar­i­on Books, 2011

What makes the tiny snail shell so beau­ti­ful? Why does that shape occur in nature over and over again — in rush­ing rivers, in a flower bud, even inside your ear?

With sim­plic­i­ty and grace, Sid­man and Krommes not only reveal the many spi­rals in nature — from fid­dle­heads to ele­phant tusks, from crash­ing waves to spi­ral­ing galax­ies — but also cel­e­brate the beau­ty and use­ful­ness of this fas­ci­nat­ing shape.

Ten Black Dots
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Don­ald Crews
Green­wil­low Books, 1995

What can you do with ten black dots?

One dot can make a sun, two dots can make the eyes of a fox, and three dots can make a snow­man’s face.

And that’s just the begin­ning in this unique count­ing book! Chil­dren will devel­op visu­al learn­ing skills, explore cre­ativ­i­ty, and prac­tice count­ing num­bers, all in one decep­tive­ly sim­ple — and fun! — pic­ture book.

What is Math?
writ­ten by Rebec­ca Kai Dotlich
illus­trat­ed by Sachiko Yoshikawa

What is math? So many things! Count­ing and cal­en­dars, weights and frac­tions, shapes and dis­tances, chart­ing and graph­ing. Math is the way we mea­sure and code our world, from sea­sons to clocks, recipes, class­rooms, and beyond. Math is all around us!

Read­ers will be intro­duced to:
– Graphs and charts — in the form of piz­za pies!
– Count­ing and weight — when bak­ing a cake!
– Shapes and word prob­lems — to build a space­ship!

This rous­ing read aloud offers an engag­ing and acces­si­ble intro­duc­tion to math — per­fect for spark­ing an ear­ly inter­est in STEM sub­jects for preschool and ear­ly ele­men­tary school chil­dren. And be sure to keep an eye out for a friend­ly black cat and white dog on each spread as they par­tic­i­pate in the math-relat­ed hijinks!

Zero the Hero
writ­ten by Joan Hol­ub
illus­trat­ed by Tom Licht­en­held
Hen­ry Holt, 2012

Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. That’s what all the oth­er num­bers think of Zero. He does­n’t add any­thing in addi­tion. He’s of no use in divi­sion. And don’t even ask what he does in mul­ti­pli­ca­tion. (Hint: Poof!) But Zero knows he’s worth a lot, and when the oth­er num­bers get into trou­ble, he swoops in to prove that his tal­ents are innumerable.

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David LaRochelle
1 month ago

I’m delight­ed to have two of my books includ­ed in this won­der­ful list of math-themed books! Thank you! Two oth­er favorites that I would add to any list of math pic­ture books are: HOW TO COUNT TO ONE (and Don’t Even THINK about Big­ger Num­bers!), writ­ten by Cas­par Salmon and illus­trat­ed by Matt Hunt. Young­sters will find it impos­si­ble to resist count­ing beyond one in this clever, hilar­i­ous count­ing book. WHICH ONE DOESN’T BELONG? by Christo­pher Daniel­son. On each page of this book are four shapes. Which one does­n’t belong? In actu­al­i­ty, a rea­son can be giv­en why any of the giv­en shapes does­n’t… Read more »