March 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Picture Books + Math Concepts = Learning Fun

Reinforce fundamentals, emphasize Common Core State Standards for mathematics, and have some fun by sharing these enticing math-based picture books with your students. Vibrant illustrations, illuminating visual representations of basic ideas, dynamic storytelling, and endearing characters are all in the equation for these entertaining offerings.

Literature-based rather than textbook-focused, this group of titles offers a fresh approach for teaching and underscoring important concepts, a tactic that will encourage mastery of the subject matter and just might flip on the “aha!” switch for some learners. These useful classroom resources will encourage kids to review ideas and apply their knowledge while powering up their imaginations and engendering enthusiasm for both math and reading.

From Here to Infinity
Bright, bold, and extra-big, Andrea Menotti and Yancey Labat’s exuberant counting book provides a tangible and tasty way for kids to get a handle on the concept of extremely large numbers. When two youngsters are asked How Many Jelly Beans? (Chronicle, 2012; K-Gr 4) they would like, they respond by repeatedly one-upping each other: Emma requests 10, then Aiden asks for 20, then 25, 50, 75, and so on, right on up through the 100s and 1,000s.

The dialogue-balloon narrative and cartoon-style characters are portrayed in sleek black and white, and each candy quantity is depicted by colorful bean-shaped dots that become smaller and closer together as the totals get bigger and bigger. Throughout, the youngsters make various breakdowns and comparisons that help children to visualize the amounts (for example, a spread of calendar pages illustrates how eating 1,000 jelly beans in a year translates to enjoying only 2 or 3 a day) and provide teachers with the opportunity for expanding upon various mathematical operations. The final astounding amount is presented on a gigantic fold-out that spreads out to banner size, an impressive sight that will prompt kids to observe along with the protagonists that one million just might be “…too many jelly beans.”

In Infinity and Me (Carolrhoda, 2012; K-Gr 4), a young girl gazes into a nighttime sky and wonders just how many stars there are, “A million? A billion? Maybe the number [is] as big as infinity.” Asking others how they imagine this concept, Uma gets an array of responses: her friend Charlie says it’s “a giant number that keeps growing bigger and bigger forever”; Samantha thinks that the symbol “looks kind of like an eight that fell over and took a nap. If it were a racetrack, I could drive around it forever”; and Grandma describes it in terms of family with descendants spanning on and on. Further exploration, some careful contemplation, and an affectionate moment shared with her grandmother ultimately lead to Uma to her own way of envisioning this somewhat overwhelming idea: her love for Grandma is “as big as infinity.”

Kate Hosford touches upon ideas both mathematical and philosophical while keeping the tale firmly grounded with a distinctively childlike perspective. Gabi Swiatkowska’s elegant pastel-hued illustrations depict the characters with old-fashioned charm and help youngsters follow the girl’s leaps of imagination. An author’s note challenges readers to find their own way to “imagine infinity,” providing impetus for discussion and creative art or writing projects.

Count and Calculate
Utilizing his customary combination of child-grabbing hilarity and solid content, Ethan Long presents The Wing Wing Brothers Math Spectacular! (Holiday, 2012; K-Gr 1), a three-act show starring five goofy ducks who perform circus routines that elicit laughs while illustrating basic concepts. In the wacky cartoon artwork, plates spin on sticks and toes and noses, pies fly through the air, and the silly siblings pile in and out of a giant magical box to disappear and reappear.

Meanwhile, the clear images, simple text, and number statements encourage kids to count and make comparisons (“8 > 5”), add and subtract, and think about zero (“1-1= 0/Now all the pies are gone”). Mathematical symbols are defined throughout. Each section showcases zany antics guaranteed to keep readers’ spellbound and ends on a humorous high note (smashing plates, pies to faces, and a giggle-inducing fart joke). An endnote states that this book correlates to kindergarten mathematics standards in Counting and Cardinality (K.CC.6 and K.CC.7) and Operations and Algebraic Thinking (K.OA.1-5) [see below]. This high-energy tale makes a helpful tool for reinforcement and review.

Braving snow-filled city streets and shivering temperatures, Pauline and her younger brother enthusiastically pursue their idea of selling Lemonade in Winter (Random, 2012; PreS-Gr 2). Collecting coins from piggy banks and household crevices, they count up their funds (“We have twenty-four quarters, and that’s six dollars”) and buy supplies at the corner store (groupings of quarters in the illustration convey each item’s cost). After opening their stand (50 cents a cup), they quickly discover that they must drum up business in their deserted neighborhood with advertising (shouting in unison), entertainment (John-John does cartwheels), and even a sale. When the pitchers are finally empty, they tally up their quarters, and though they only break even, they now have plenty of experience under their belts and enough coins to buy two Popsicles.

Emily Jenkins’s charming narrative smoothly incorporates plenty of opportunities to count, recount, and add, while also presenting a real-world application for this skill along with entrepreneurial basics (an endnote explains money values). The soft-hued illustrations by G. Brian Karas delineate the wintery setting and underscore the humor. Add a hands-on element to the story by passing out coins from your classroom money set and asking students to follow along with the amounts; then expand upon the tale by brainstorming and exploring other scenarios to earn cash.

In David A. Adler’s introduction to dimensions, kooky monsters attend a 3-D movie and help readers to understand and calculate Perimeter, Area, and Volume (2012; Gr 2-5). In one instance, the characters must figure out how much fencing is needed to enclose two different yards (and keep out nosy neighbors). Other problems include figuring out the area of a movie screen, and determining volume to show why a jumbo-size box of popcorn holds more than a large. Definitions in the text, carefully labeled diagrams, and numeric statements (metric equivalents are included) make the concepts clear.

Edward Miller’s bright-hued illustrations support the text with easy-to-comprehend visuals and play up the humor. This book is aligned with Measurement and Data standards for third through fifth grade. In small groups your students can work out the examples on the board, and then go on a classroom-measuring rampage. Other teachable titles from this author/illustrator duo include Time Zones (2010), Fun with Roman Numerals (2008), and Fraction Fun (1996, all Holiday House).

WOW: Exploring Symmetry in Mathematics and Beyond
Loreen Leedy provides readers with a helpful how-to on Seeing Symmetry (Holiday House, 2012; Gr 2-5), whether it’s found in simple shapes, nature, or everyday objects. Straightforward text and neatly laid-out images introduce the basic concept and delve into a variety of intriguing examples (e.g., animals, human faces, letters and words with either a vertical or horizontal line of symmetry). Also covered are rotational symmetry, animals and machines that utilize mirror-image parts to move, and examples of symmetry found in traditional artwork from around the globe, familiar holiday symbols, architecture, and furniture.

Questions appear throughout the text, encouraging youngsters to apply and expand upon their knowledge (detailed answers are provided at book’s end). Also appended are easy-to-replicate activities (make a “Symme-TREE” or a paint blot pattern), an explanation of why symmetry is an important math concept, and definitions of related vocabulary. Aligned with the standards for fourth-grade math in geometry (4.G.3), this book reviews a core concept while also encouraging youngsters to look beyond their workbooks and seek out symmetry in the world around them. Visit the author’s website for a booktalk and some related activities.

Expand your studies to other areas of the curriculum to solidify the concept and help your students make connections. Jane Yolen and Jason Stemple invite youngsters to contemplate symmetry by holding A Mirror to Nature (Wordsong, 2009; Gr 2-5). Attractive spreads pair crystalline photographs of various animals–each critter’s image and surroundings artfully reflected in the water—with whimsical poems that encourage readers to take a closer look. For example, as an alligator poses on a muddy bank, its tooth-filled head paralleled in the water’s surface below, the text playfully points out, “Because/of jaws,/I stay out/of the river./One pair’s/a scare,/the other—/full shiver./One pair/is real,/and one/a reflection./But I’ll never/give either/a closer/inspection.” Brief captions provide notes about the wildlife, and students might want to research these critters or try writing their own inspired-by-symmetry works.

Symmetry can be found in literary texts as well as math and nature. Marilyn Singer’s Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse (2010; Gr 3-6) presents 14 “reverso” poems—selections that can be read down the page and then up again (with changes only in punctuation and line breaks) to reveal a different meaning. The two renderings are presented side by side for easy reading.

This format works well to tell two sides of the same story, and the book focuses on such well-known fairytale match-ups as Beauty and the Best, Snow White and the wicked Queen, and Jack and the Giant. Josée Masse’s painterly jewel-toned illustrations employ mirror images to convey the duel perspectives. The result is a clever and enchanting book that offers a wealth of classroom teaching opportunities. A second volume, Follow Follow (2013, both Dutton), has also been published.

Fun with Words and Numbers
What in the world are Wumbers (Chronicle, 2012; K-Gr 4)? Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld reveal the answer in a picture book that features “words cre8ed with numbers.” From a boy showing off a gap-filled smile (“He lost his first 2th! He is el8ed!”), to a mother confronting her guilty-looking children next to a smashed cookie jar (“There’s no d9 it”), to a youngster snuggled up with a dog in a patch of sunlight (“Pure con10tment”), each double-page scenario is irresistibly imaginative. Amusing, clean-lined illustrations show a variety of likable characters along with visual details that will help youngsters decode the text. With a humorous one-two punch, the book combines number recognition with a rebus-style presentation that builds literacy skills. Once kids understand the ba6, they will be captiv8ted, and eager to cre8 their own Wumbers.

Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems (Harcourt, 2012; Gr 3-6) provides opportunity for teachers to pose brainteasers that incorporate subjects across the curriculum. In these cleverly devised offerings, J. Patrick Lewis not only echoes the poetic formats, rhythms, and vocabularies of 14 well-known selections, but also adds a math twist. Presented on a spread humorously illustrated by Michael Slack, each re-imagined poem incorporates one or more math problems (answers are provided in small-size type) that range in difficulty from straightforward to challenging.

An offering inspired by “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” has a cowboy clad in “tightie whities” toting up the cost of “Robert Frost’s Boxer Shorts,” while gazing longingly at a colorful array of underwear (patterned with stars, lion heads, rockets, and more) hanging on a clothes line. In a tidbit based on the poem, “Us Two,” a skeleton and ghost add up the perimeter of  “A. A. Milne’s Spooky Garden,” and “Langston Hughes’s Train Trip” (“April Rain Song”) and ask listeners to calculate the cost of a train ticket, plus 10 percent tax, plus tip (15 percent of the total). Cartoon-style caricatures and brief bios of the poets are appended. Do the computations with your students, discuss and review the operations utilized, and then expand the experience by sharing and comparing the original poems to Lewis’s renditions.


The Common Core State Standards below are a sampling of those referenced in the above books and classroom activities:

K.CC.6. Identify whether the number of objects in one group is greater than, less than, or equal to the number of objects in another group….
K.CC.7. Compare two numbers between 1 and 10 presented as written numerals.
K.OA.1-5. Understand addition as putting together and adding to, and understand subtraction as taking apart and taking from.
1.OA.1-2. Represent and solve problems involving addition and subtraction.
2.MD. 8. Solve word problems involving dollar bills, quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies using $ and cents symbols appropriately.
3.MD.5-8. Understand concepts of area and relate area to multiplication and addition.
4.MD.2. Use the four operations to solve word problems involving distances…masses of objects….
4.MD.3. Apply the area and perimeter formulas for rectangles in real world and mathematical problems.
4.G.3. Recognize a line of symmetry for a two-dimensional figure as a line across the figure such that the figure can be folded along the line into matching parts. Identify line-symmetric figures and draw lines of symmetry.
5.MD.3-5. Geometric measurement: understand concepts of volume and relate volume to multiplication and addition.

School Library Journal’s webcast series on the Common Core continues on March 14, 2013. For more information and to register, visit our dedicated webpage.

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.