31 Days, 31 Lists: 2018 Math Books for Kids
I’m not entirely certain how I ended up on the Mathical Book Prize committee, but it’s one of the best darn things that’s ever happened to me. Do you know what it’s like to be an English major with a math wariness that must constantly confront the world of numbers on a regular basis? It’s eye-opening, that’s what it is!! Suddenly I’ve this sympathy for the mathematicians amongst us. They want books too. Books that can show other people how great math is in its every iteration and what do we give math-loving kids? Proust. Okay, not really, but you know what I mean. The English majors rule the publishing world and regard mathematics with a wary, sometimes hostile, eye.
Well, no longer. Since the inception of the Mathical prizes I’ve noticed a small uptick in the number of books that a budding mathematician might enjoy. The numbers are not large. The books are not always good. But this year I’ve plucked out the ones that I thought did a spot on job. From shapes to biographies of mathematicians to novels unafraid to incorporate math into the plot (no mean feat, pardon the pun) here are the stand out mathy titles of 2018.
2018 Math Books for Kids
Circle Rolls by Barbara Kanninen, ill. Serge Bloch
The publisher’s description of this book compares it, in its way, to Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece. Notable, but I think I like this book better than Shel’s odd little number. A circle rolls into the scene, comes in contact with the pointy part of a triangle . . . and pops! Chaos ensues. And, as you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of ensuing chaos.
Counting On Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker, ill. Dow Phumiruk
It’s interesting to me that in the initial cover for this book the publisher decided to portray Katherine as an adult. Then, at some point, the executive decision came down to make her a relatable kid instead. Of the women featured in Hidden Figures, this is probably the best written biography so far. Katherine comes off as relatable and admirable from start to finish. I was sad that there wasn’t more actual math in the book. It’s very much a case of telling rather than showing, and the math doesn’t make much of an appearance in the art, but sometimes you take what you can get.
Crash! Boom! A Math Tale by Robie H. Harris, ill. Chris Chatterton
They say that the very idea of playing with blocks was a concept dreamed up at the Bank Street College of Education. The more you know! In this book for younger readers, block play and mathematics are intertwined. It’s surprisingly simple, but there’s plenty of basic math equations at the end. Plus I love that Harris apparently can tackle any subject if she puts her mind to it.
Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan, ill. Mehrdokht Amini
Shape books are tricky. Some of them try to hard and others don’t try hard enough. To perfectly integrate the story with the images can be difficult. What I respect about Khan and Amini here is that not only do the shapes appear naturally but they propel the narrative forward so that when you get to the crescent at the end you feel like you’ve earned it. Plus, y’know. Gorgeous.
Ducks Away! by Mem Fox, ill. Judy Horacek
Again with the ducks! I gave this Fox/Horacek number some love when I summed up the 2018 Picture Book Readalouds in a list, and today I bring it up once more. As with the Robie Harris books, this is the rare math book for the younger ages. In this case, counting down and counting back up again. Getting to do panicked duck quacks is just a bonus.
The Girl With a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague by Julia Finley Mosca, ill. Daniel Rieley
The rare rhyming picture book biography. By all rights, such a thing should not work. Or, at the very least, it shouldn’t be good. But I’d already seen what Mosca was capable of with last year’s The Doctor With an Eye for Eyes, so I was confident she could pull it off. In this book, the author does a very good job of higlighting the sheer unfairness of the prejudices that Ms. Montague faced. Really, it makes her success all the sweeter at the end. You also get a little more math in the art than you did with the Katherine Johnson bio, so that’s nice.
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
I was so impressed with this book when it came out that I haven’t stopped thinking about it. Do you know how difficult it is to put math into a novel in a believable way? And McAnulty doesn’t make it easy on herself either. Her heroine loves math, is good at it, and then uses that math later in the story to aid in a school project (that isn’t initially math related). It also has loads of character development, smarts, and humor, but the math really sets it apart from the pack.
Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakeable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe, ill. Barbara McClintock
My favorite. In a just and beautiful world this book would win a Caldecott Honor this year, easy. Of the math books of 2018, this one blows away the competition. Why? Well, first off it’s the rare picture book biography about a female mathematician who doesn’t work with computers in some way. Next, McClintock works numbers into the illustrations so beautifully. Finally, it shows math in the text! Math equations. Math concepts. The whole darn thing embraces mathematics so fully and with so much joy that there’s nothing like it out there anywhere. A must read.
100 Bugs! A Counting Book by Kate Narita, ill. Suzanne Kaufman
And back we go to the younger readers. There are many reasons to like this book, and not least of which is the old “counting to 100” concept. What makes this slightly different is that when they count to one hundred, they basically do so in sets of ten. And yes, if you’d like to know more about the insects at the end, that’s an option. They have additional information there.
123 Early Learning at the Museum by The Trustees of the British Museum
Sacre bleu! A board book! And a museum-y one at that. The British Museum displays some of the objects in its holdings for counting. Awfully pretty inside, and I can’t resist crisp, clear photography. It’s beautiful and as counting books go, you may find it to be the best board book on the subject of the year.
Pass Go and Collect $200: The Real Story of How Monopoly Was Invented by Tanya Lee Stone, ill. Steven Salerno
We all know that the game of Monopoly is how you sneak math into games for kids. Making change is a huge part of it, after all, to say nothing of purchasing and doling out your dollars. And Stone could honestly have left it at that, but she wanted more. As a result the backmatter contains “Monopoly Math” word problems and some equations. Don’t just get the book for the math, though. Get it because it’s a marvelous explanation of the complexity of invention. Who is really the one to credit for modern Monopoly today? Whose brainchild was it? The answers will almost certainly surprise you.
Seven Bad Cats by Mo Bonneau
Is it just me or has this been a surprisingly good picture book year for cats? On the surface, this is just a book that counts up and down, but this highly clever little outing drills down to a cat’s essential essence. Counting up, the cats are bad. Counting down, the cats are good. And on that very last page there’s at least one cat ready to start the cycle all over again. Good for cat lovers and counters alike.
Squares, Rectangles, and Other Quadrilaterals by David A. Adler, ill. Edward Miller
Between Stuart Murphy and David A. Adler, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the world of mathematics in children’s books has been well and truly covered. Still, Adler keeps finding ways to keep a variety of different topics inventive, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s paired with great artists like Edward Miller to keep things colorful and consistent. In this book, polygons get their due.
3 X 4 by Ivan Brunetti
People joke about “new math” and adults that can’t help their kids with their homework anymore. Heck Incredibles 2 practically turned it into a plot point. I do okay with my own daughter, but she’s only in the second grade so far, so my future may not be secure. Fortunately there are books out there like this one that can help me. Brunetti has conjured up a story where a classroom of kids must draw a dozen items in sets. They can render them in three sets of four, four of three, and two of six, but above all they must be creative. A hard topic to make into a book, but comics always help.
When Sophie Thinks She Can’t by Molly Bang
Oh, one of my favorites on the list, no doubt about it! Many of us are familiar with the classic Molly Bang tale When Sophie Gets Angry . . . Really Really Angry. Now Sophie has to deal with math. Her knee-jerk reaction is that old chestnut, “I can’t do it!” The perfect teacher reaction in a single word? “Yet”. Since Molly’s working on a math problem in this story, I think a lot of kids will have no difficulty relating. And have no fear there are math exercises and tangram endpapers for you teachers out there. Go wild!
Interested in the other lists? Here’s the schedule of everything being covered this month. Enjoy!
December 1 – Board Books & Pop-Ups
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Wordless Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – CaldeNotts
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Books for Kids
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – Translated Picture Books
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Poetry Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Comics for Kids
December 21 – Older Funny Books
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Fiction Reprints
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
Filed under: 31 Days 31 Lists
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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