31 Days, 31 Lists: 2019 Math Books for Kids
It was a funny trick of fate that I, your average librarian/former English major, ended up serving each and every year on the Mathical Book Prize committee. If you are unfamiliar with the prize, it’s awarded by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI), in partnership with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), in coordination with the Children’s Book Council (CBC). The committee consists of mathematicians, educators, librarians, early childhood experts, and others, and decides on the best math books for kids each and every year. Fiction and Nonfiction are both game. And happily for today’s list, we are always allowed to come up with our own lists of favorites. In 2019, these were the math books that really made me sing. Whether you’re dealing with shapes or number lines, it’s all on display right here.
2019 Math Books for Kids
Arithmechicks Add Up: A Math Story by Ann Marie Stephens, ill. Jia Liu
Do you know how many math picture books in a given year act like they’re scared of the subject matter? More than I can count (ha ha). Children’s book creators have no difficulty with counting and shapes, but try to weasel anything additional out of them and they scatter like scared rabbits. Not this book, though. It’s bold enough to say in the subtitle that it’s a “A Math Story” and doggone if it doesn’t live up to the task. Ten chicks head off to have fun and, as they do so, one chick adds them together. Only the chick on the sidelines isn’t just adding in the usual sense. Peek over its shoulder and you’ll see that it utilizes EIGHT different methods. A number bond, a ten frame, tally marks, fingers, decomposing numbers, a number line, an equation and the act of “counting on” are all on display. As the mother of a girl adept at most of these while I stumble behind, it’s uniquely gratifying to see them rendered so lovingly. And you know what? The story about a mouse who just wants to join in the fun works as well. The art’s even good! As math books go, this puppy’s the total package.
Bears Make the Best Math Buddies by Carmen Oliver, ill. Jean Claude
The lot of the math-related picture book is tricky indeed. So much pressure is placed on them to be interesting to kids AND to make math no longer the scary concept it can sometimes be. Now I sort of missed Oliver and Claude’s previous outing with Bear in Bears Make the Best Reading Buddies, but honestly reading doesn’t need the good PR that math does. This book does a really lovely job of normalizing math in the day-to-day. Plus, the bear’s wearing a math-related sweater covered in symbols. I kinda love/want that sweater.
Count On Me by Miguel Tanco
And speaking of normalizing a love of math… This is something that artistic or language-loving people can sometimes have a hard time understanding, but the fact of the matter is that there really are kids out there that see the world in mathematical terms. This book, therefore, is invaluable in accepting these kids and celebrating them. The little girl in this book wants to find her passion since her dad paints, her mom loves science, and her brother is into music. For her, it’s math. Shapes and concentric circles. Fractals and polygons. There’s even math-related backmatter to the book. It’s simple and charming and rare. Everything you need in a math book.
Frankie’s Food Truck by Lucia Gaggiotti
Apparently this book is based on a board game (Frankie’s Food Truck Fiasco Game!) and the snobby librarian in me wants to discount it on those grounds alone. And yet . . . I can’t. I love this kooky little lift-the-flap title! Not because it’s about food trucks (which are delicious) but because it’s such a fun concept. Every day Frankie serves a different food shape. You lift the flaps to see what the foods are. Simple. Effective. Yummy.
From 1 to 10 by Mies Van Hout, translated by élami agency
Counting books abound, so how do you go about making yours stand out? Originally published in the Netherlands, Van Hout excels at bright, bold colors. The images on these pages pop beautifully. It’s not a traditional board book in the sense that it has thick pages. Instead, it has a poofy cover and the pages inside are thick and very sturdy. At the end, there are instructions on how to help your young children learn about counting. A numbers book that goes the extra distance in terms of teaching.
How to Two by David Soman
Hey, man. Ever since Soman did Three Bears in a Boat, I’ve been squarely Team David. Here he presents the gentlest counting book on record. Cleverly, the numbers go up as the games the kids play increase in players. Two for a seesaw. Three for jump ropes. Four for foursquare. Etc. Soman’s gorgeous watercolors are lush and lovely, particularly when water is involved, and the numbers are reinforced in different ways. Good younger counting stuff.
I’m Trying to Love Math by Bethany Barton
While I wouldn’t normally push a book in a series, this latest Barton title (she already wrote I’m Trying to Love Spiders and Give Bees a Chance) stands alone. First off, finding ANY good math books published in a given year is a near impossible feat, but I’m always secretly hoping I’ll find at least one great one. This year, this might be my math book of choice. It breaks down all the reasons you’re supposed to hate math, shows how it infiltrates every aspect of your life, and is really funny along the way. Who could ask for anything more?
If Pluto Was a Pea by Gabrielle Prendergast, ill. Rebecca Gerlings
It’s rare to find a Pluto picture book on the Nonfiction side that isn’t about its untimely ousting from its former planetary status. This book revels in the exoplanets and doesn’t mind bringing them up, but at its heart it’s all about the math, really. Specifically, size and comparisons. If Pluto was a pea, how large would the other planets be? I know that when we’re dealing with distance this would be hard to put into practical terms, but size is something that works with kids. It’s also not afraid of numbers (so many math books are).
A Million Dots by Sven Völker
It’s not every math book that ends up on the New York Times Best Illustrated List. In fact, before this book garnered that honor I’d never really seen it before. Not wholly dissimilar to How Many Jelly Beans? by Andrea Menotti, this German import dares to show kids what a million looks like on the page. It starts out simple, though. 1+1 = 2. Fair enough. Then it doubles that to 4. Still manageable. With art that makes sense out of these numbers, more and more begin to fill the page. I’ve no doubt you’ll find some meticulous kiddo attempting to count the page that shows 2,048 or even 4,096. Best of all, the book is doubling the numbers so it doesn’t reach a tidy million. No, it reaches 1,048,576, and I hope you like gatefolds because that is the ONLY way they were able to fit them all onto the pages. Neat execution for a cool idea.
Now What? A Math Tale by Robie H. Harris, ill. Chris Chatterton
Little surprise to see this book on this list, particularly when you consider that its predecessor, Crash! Boom! A Math Tale, was the winner of the Mathical Prize for ages 2-4 the year it pubbed. Harris has recently decided to focus her talents on making math concepts practical for the youngest of readers. Not only that, but she makes a good story as well. In this book a puppy wants to construct a bed out of blocks, and has to work its way through rectangles, squares, and triangles (and how they can become one another) to do it. Odd for something so simple to be so clever.
One Dark Bird by Liz Garton Scanlon, ill. Frann Preston-Gannon
While serving on the aforementioned Mathical Book Prize committee, the committee’s crew of dedicated mathematicians and math teachers must determine how mathy one book or another is. That’s the question I struggled with, regarding this book. I absolutely love that it’s a story about a murmuration of starlings (something I have seen only once and will never forget). The math at first seems a bit tacked on. You have your counting at the start, but then it’s all about the murmuration (can you tell that I just like writing the word “murmuration”?). Happily, at the end there’s a count back down, so I’m delighted to slot it into the counting category. Plus the art is kind of gorgeous. No small thing.
One Is a Piñata: A Book of Numbers by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, ill. John Parra
In retrospect, it’s interesting that with all their concept books in this series (Round Is a Tortilla, Green Is a Chile Pepper, etc.) Thong and Parra have only now created a counting book yet. Pretty much anything these two produce is going to be lovely to eye and ear alike. This is the first book they’ve done in my memory that mentions zapatos, which is one of my favorite Spanish words. Plus there’s foosball. You cannot, in any way, go wrong with including foosball and zapatos in a book. The counting works, the art sings, the book is a winner.
Our World Is Relative by Julia Sooy, ill. Molly Walsh
Well, this breaks down the concept of relativity to its most basic form and in a comprehensible way that kids can understand. Also, and this is important, the book isn’t afraid of numbers. Throughout the book it shows how something you see one way could be flipped and seen another way. In this way it reminded me quite a bit of that book Double Take! A New Look at Opposites.
Tangled: A Story About Shapes by Anne Miranda, ill. Eric Comstock
Shape books are ubiquitous every year. Sometimes I sort of wonder to myself if they really count as math. I mean, I understand that shapes and math are integral but how? Well, I think I say with certainty that this is the mathiest shape book that ever you did see. How mathy is it? The hero of the tale is a Line. Nuff said.
Terrible Times Tables: A Modern Multiplication Primer by Michell Markel, ill. Merrilee Liddiard
Well now THAT was a challenge. Basically, what you have here is a book that helps you learn your multiplication tables through rhyme. Each number gets its own separate section. So 2X is “Back to School”, 3X is “Halloween” and so on. Smart! My sole objection is how much this book would have benefited from a slightly darker touch in the art. Something with a tinge of Gorey would have been ideal. That said, it’s a delightful update to an old concept, and might actually help kids learn those darn numbers.
A Trapezoid Is Not a Dinosaur by Suzanne Morris
If you’ve a kid that was a fan of Kelly Bingham’s Z Is for Moose, this is sort of its shapey equivalent. Triangle is conducting auditions for a play and Trapezoid is keeps popping up to interrupt. Though it’s often dismissed, the book sets up a situation where the reader’s sympathies fall with the much maligned shape. And the ending is awfully shape-y indeed. Kirkus said of it, “An effective bridge from simple shape identification to more specific geometric facts.” Uh, yeah. What they said.
Which One Doesn’t Belong? Playing With Shapes by Christopher Danielson
Well, it’s a little unfair of me to include this on the list, since this isn’t the first time this book has been published. In its previous form (with its previous publisher Stenhouse) it even went to go so far as to win a Mathical Prize. They advertise that fact on the back of the book, which is kind of cool. But, full disclosure, I served on that jury and helped award that book so clearly I’m a bit biased towards it. That said, the whole reason it even got a prize is that it does something that mathematicians love. It allows you to use your brain to figure out which of the four shapes doesn’t belong. Yet every single one of those shapes could be said to be the outsider. As Danielson writes, “You’re thinking in a mathy way when you notice sameness and difference for one property at a time.” Same goes for life, I suppose.
Interested in the other lists? Here’s the schedule of everything being covered this month. Enjoy!
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Funny Picture Books
December 7 – CaldeNotts
December 8 – Picture Book Reprints
December 9 – Math Books for Kids
December 10 – Bilingual Books
December 11 – Books with a Message
December 12 – Fabulous Photography
December 13 – Translated Picture Books
December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 15 – Wordless Picture Books
December 16 – Poetry Books
December 17 – Easy Books
December 18 – Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 20 – Older Funny Books
December 21 – Science Fiction Books
December 22 – Informational Fiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Older Reprints
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
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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