Marvelous Picture Books for Math-Lovers (And Haters Too!)

Is your child addicted to adding? Nuts for numerals? Or positively frightened at the mention of arithmetic? Feed your little one’s love of everything mathematical (or inspire it!) with a multidisciplinary approach.

There are a number of thought-provoking picture books out there that nicely introduce math concepts. Number fiends will appreciate finally reading a good story that speaks to their more computational sensibilities. And math-a-phobes will enjoy seeing those dreaded numerals in a more friendly, and literary framework. Check out these picture books and make math more than a drill! 

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos

By Deborah Heiligman

Most kids ask you for the year of your birth to figure out your age. Four year-old Paul Erdos would ask the question to figure out how many seconds you’ve lived! Paul was a mathematical genius. But there were some things he couldn’t do: butter his toast, wash laundry, or cook a meal to name a few.

Fortunately, Paul didn’t have to take care of himself. People would help him out with that part. And in exchange, Paul would bring mathematicians together to make new discoveries in the field. This picture book biography does a wonderful job of showing how, despite his eccentricities – or perhaps thanks to them – Paul was simply brilliant. He was the kind of person who didn’t follow the rules and invented a new way to live.

Delightful illustrations not only introduce kids to the lively city of Budapest, they draw children into the world of math. Presenting the world numerically as Paul would have seen it, illustrator LeUyen Pham does a wonderful job of bringing math into art by weaving in equations, theorems, charts, diagrams, and Paul’s own puzzles. Look out for the image of his number graphs where Paul is depicted with other great mathematicians – a visual gem!

Infinity and Me

By Kate Hosford

What child isn’t completely mesmerized by the concept of infinity? And yet, they often misunderstand it as the biggest number ever – something you can reach, not complete endlessness.

So how do you explain infinity? How do you imagine it? Young Uma looks up at the sky and wonders if the stars are infinite. She asks her friends and family how they picture it and they all have their own creative, age-appropriate take. A racetrack shaped like a figure eight, an endless ice cream cone, music that goes in a circle, Grandma’s boundless love . . .

The book is richly poetic. And the complex math concept is beautifully presented with surreal, Victorian style illustrations. Incredibly charming and full of heart! Best of all, the endnotes have explanations from real children on how they imagine infinity. How does yours?

Lion’s Share: A Tale of Halving a Cake and Eating It, Too!

By Matthew McElligot

Math, sharing, and a lesson in good manners! What more could a parent ask for? This delectable picture book does an amazing job of teaching mathematical concepts, particularly fractions, visually.

The king of the jungle is throwing a party and ant is invited for the first time! The rest of the ill-mannered guests behave horrifically throughout the meal, throwing food and even sitting on it. And when it comes to the delicious-looking cake? Well, Elephant takes half! As the cake is passed around, each animal takes half of what’s left until there’s only a crumb for ant – and nothing for the king.

Embarrassed by leaving the host empty-handed, the ant offers to bake him a homemade cake. Each animal then, courting the king’s favor, takes turns doubling the ante. Beetle offers two cakes. Then four, eight, sixteen . . . and when it’s Elephant’s turn? Why it’s all the way up to 256 peanut butter pound cakes!

Not only will kids get a lesson in basic manners, they’ll love visually seeing the cake divided up through clever illustrations and layouts. And just imagine a palace full of cakes once the doubling up begins! What little kiddo wouldn’t fall for that?!?

One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale

By Demi

A traditional folktale, this is a story of how a little village girl outsmarts a selfish and oppressive king using only math as her weapon. In a town of rice farmers, the raja demands that they all hand over the majority of their rice for safekeeping in his storehouses. But once a famine hits, the raja is reluctant to share the rice . . . after all, who knows how long the famine may last and a raja must eat!

A village girl witnesses elephants loaded with rice being taken to the palace for one of the raja’s feasts. She notices grains of rice falling off one of the creatures, and gathers up her skirts to catch them while devising a plan. When the raja tries to thank her for her honesty and offers a reward, she asks for one grain of rice – just one grain to be doubled each day for thirty days. The raja agrees to what seems to be a modest request.

On the thirtieth day, the raja owes 536,870,912 grains of rice. In fact, all together the village girl has received more than a billion grains of rice! And she, of course, shares them with all the starving villagers.

Kids will delight over a child hero who outsmarts the king and they’ll see some awesome math in action! Plus, Demi’s illustrations, inspired by Indian miniatures, offer up some real visual delicacies. 

Sir Cumference Series

By Cindy Neuschwander

Set in medieval England, this series allows children to explore a variety of math concepts through chivalric problem-solving. King Arthur is a good ruler but he needs help. Enter Sir Cumference, his wife Lady Di Ameter, and son Radius to the rescue!

The first book of the series, Sir Cumference and the First Round Table gets children thinking about geometry: the court’s knights find they need a new table to better discuss an impending war, without having to shout.

Sir Cumference and the Sword in the Cone has the trio helping their friend Vertex to find the sword Edgecalibur while learning all about cubes, pyramids, cylinders, and cones.

The third book, Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi, offers up yet another delicious adventure in geometry (focused on circles, diameter, and radius) as son Radius tries to cure the fire in his father’s belly.

There are plenty more Sir Cumference books with new and exciting math adventures to devour. Kids love the play on words and the easy-to-understand mathematical challenges. The characters are unforgettable and concepts well-explained.

What are tools have your used to get your children loving math? Share your favorites with us!

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