31 Days, 31 Lists: 2022 Math Books for Kids
Math math math!
Whodathunk that I, Betsy Bird, former perfectly-average-math-kid, would be so fond of numbers and equations in my children’s books today? Not me from 30 years ago, that’s for sure. And yet, due to the sheer number of fabulous titles out in a given year, math now abounds and we are all better for it. Who can resist it?
Now this was the last year that I served on the Mathical Book Prize committee, and I leave them with sadness. Of course I can still submit the titles I like best to them every year, and thanks to the plethora of submissions out there, I shall! I won’t be able to see quite as many titles as I did before, but them’s the breaks. At least I have a couple true charmers on this list today.
Can’t get enough of those numbers and numerals? Then check out my previous years lists!
2022 Math Books for Kids
Again, Essie? by Jenny Lacika, ill. Teresa Martínez
The “Storytelling Math” picture book series strikes again. To be frank, I got nothing but respect for the folks that put these titles out. They take such extra care to include a wide variety of levels in math, representative backgrounds, and just fun stories. Now sometimes I put a hold on a book in my library and it comes in and I forget why I reserved it in the first place. When I received this one I sort of missed the big “Storytelling Math” square on the cover. The result was that I read this just like any other story. The whole premise is that older brother Rafael is trying desperately to keep his little sister Essie from bothering him. While she naps he finds every kind of box he can and then sets upon building a wall out of the boxes. The logistics behind getting the right shapes in the right places was deeply satisfying to me and I found myself thinking, “Hey! This is good book on spacial reasoning! I should put this in my Math list at the end of the year” before I got to the end and saw all the useful mathy backmatter. In addition to an “Exploring the Math” portion with explanations and then suggestions for doing similar fun things with your own kids, there’s a Glossary for the Spanish terms in the book, and a note about borders and walls that’s a touch more serious than you’d usually find in a light-hearted story of toddler destruction. Good all around.
Bake Infinite Pie with X + Y by Eugenia Cheng, ill. Amber Ren
Infinity is one of those concepts that picture book creators, even the ones that can’t stand math, are unable to resist placing with the covers of 32-page books. Eugenia Cheng, however, is actually a mathematician herself and she is NOT afraid of big math ideas. That’s a bit of an understatement, actually, since this book isn’t just talking about infinity. It’s discussing exponentials and fractals and x and y-axes. Zeno’s Paradox even makes an appearance and you know how much I love it when Zeno shows up. Fun math done right. Even if kids don’t get every idea on these pages, it at least has the ability of opening their eyes and stirring up new notions in those little percolating brains of theirs.
Counting in Dog Years and Other Sassy Math Poems by Betsy Franco, ill. Priscilla Tey
Am I on board with sassy math poems? Yes, I am on board with sassy math poems. The question is how sassy are we talking here? On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the most sassy and one being only mildly sassy, where would this particular book fall? Squarely at five. We’re talking medium level sass. In terms of the poetry and the math itself, though, much higher! While on the Mathical Book Prize committee I’ve always been astounded by math books for children that are afraid of their own math. Franco doesn’t give me that impression. Poems like “How Old Am I?”, for example, go through fractions as they relate to age and birthdays, which I found pretty darn impressive. Meanwhile you’ve these exceedingly delightful gouache pieces of art from Priscilla Tey that can take that poem about fractions and turn it into this rather beautifully rendered side-view of a person’s head as house (trust me, it makes sense when you’re looking at it). The math is strong with this one. The poetry? Strong too!
How Old Is Mr. Tortoise? by Dev Petty, ill. Ruth Chan
Math. You never know when it’s gonna getcha. In spite of its title, this one surprised me. I like Dev Petty and Ruth Chan and usually think of them as the types of picture book creators that bring the funny. That’s true here, but they’re also unafraid to bring the mathy, and for that I salute them. In this story Mr. Tortoise is having a birthday and he is VERY excited about the whole eating cake part of the process. However, when asked his age he’s a bit uncertain. What follows is a rather clever bit of detective work. As more and more clues are brought into the story. The final solution involves counting a number of succulents, adding them to the age Mr. Tortoise was when he moved into his new enclosure, and then adding an additional number he’s eaten (five). This makes for a surprisingly satisfying ending. This is everyday math in its finest flower and I, for one, salute it!
How to Hear the Universe: Gaby González and the Search for Einstein’s Ripples in Space-Time by Patricia Valdez, ill. Sara Palacios
How many Argentinian female physicist picture biographies would you say you have sitting on your shelves right now? What’s that? You don’t have any? How wrong you are. You have at least one, because after you read this recap you’re going to go out and buy a copy of this book and pronto. One of the things I like most about science and math is people’s ability to collaborate on ideas and projects, even when separated by time. And being separated by time is a particularly apt thing to say when you’re talking about Albert Einstein. It seems he once had a theory about ripples in space-time, but was never able to adequately prove it in his lifetime. Enter Gaby González. Valdez does a particularly keen job of highlighting her life, in the context of trying to figure out whether or not Einstein was right. What’s also nice is how this book doesn’t make it look like she went it alone, always showing her working in a group with other scientists. It never cheats with fake dialogue and you want Backmatter? You got it, baby! Check out these fantastic options. Timeline, Glossary, Selected Sources, Videos, Websites, and two pages of written text that give even more context. In a word: beautiful.
Infinity: Figuring Out Forever by Sarah C. Campbell, photos by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell
Folks, I’ve been round this here sun once or twice and I can tell you for a fact that the concept of infinity is so powerful that it has been known to melt the minds of children’s book creators. How else to explain why the majority of picture books and nonfiction titles for kids on the topic start out strong and then slip irrevocably into the esoteric? If I’m going to have a kid at my reference desk asking me for a book on infinity, by gum I want a friggin’ book on the mathematical concept itself! Except, y’know, kid-friendly. After an inordinate amount of time, I think I’ve found my match. Sarah C. Campbell does a grand job of not only saying what infinity is, but also makes it clear what infinity is not (mirrors that reflect into the distance don’t count). I love that the book shows how infinity aided in things like landing on the moon (it’s vague on the particulars but then it would have to be, right?). The important thing is that it establishes infinity’s importance for the younger readers and it does so admirably. A necessary purchase for libraries!
One Boy Watching by Grant Snider
Is it math? Or are numbers merely a means to an end? I don’t know, but looking at this book I was instantly reminded of Shawn Harris’s Caldecott Honor winning Have You Ever Seen a Flower? No coincidence, this book is also published by Chronicle (motto: Chronicle – For all your colored pencil needs). This book is particularly interesting to me, though, because it highlights something I’ve never really noticed mentioned in children’s books before. Mainly, that for a lot of kids (including my own) a bus ride provides a large chunk of time for contemplation that they really don’t get anytime else. Here, a boy is the first one on his route, and he counts the things he sees on the familiar travels. He even counts the kids that come onto the bus. And I am happy to report that when the book says that there are “Forty-eight kids in all,” I sat down and counted and there ARE forty-eight kids on the pages! You’d be amazed how often books cheat when they list numbers like this. You know some kid, somewhere, is going to count as well. May as well not disappoint them. Lovely, languid, colorful, thoughtful, and full of numbers. What more could you want?
One Million Trees: A True Story by Kristen Balouch
What would you do if your parents pulled you out of school so that you could join them in planting one million trees? This turns out to be a fun picture book memoir of an amazing feat. And I just gotta say that this is a real real nice book. You know what it really reminded me of? A more environmentally conscious Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe. Once you get over the whole pulling the kids out of school thing (the parent in me just had this instant knee-jerk reaction to that) the story is utterly fascinating. Love how French words were so naturally worked into the text, and the ending is really lovely. It was smart to leave the info that this new forest would also eventually be cut down to the backmatter, I think. Plus there’s some really cool math worked into the margins! A clever clogs of a title.
Too-Small Tyson by JaNay Brown-Wood, ill. Anastasia Magloire Williams
Once more, you know you’re dealing with a good math book when you don’t notice that it’s part of the “Storytelling Math” series, start reading it, and think to yourself, “Hey! The way that this book deals with sizes and substitutions is the kind of concept I usually find in really good math books.” And, indeed, that is part of the purpose. But Storytelling Math titles work because they really do equalize the math components with the storytelling. In this particular case, Tyson is the youngest of five brothers, which is kind of cool and kind of awful. They call him L’il Man (definitely not his favorite name) and often try to take care of things for him rather than letting him try himself. But when family gerbil Swish goes missing, it takes Tyson and a bit of problem solving with some small, medium, and large tubes to save the day. There’s a lot to love about the storyline, the writing, and the sweet sweet backmatter.
We Are the Shapes by Kevin Jenner
As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, 2022 marked the last year that I (sniff) am serving on the Mathical Book Prize committee as their librarian rep. It’s sad to let it go, but even if I’m not helping to select the best math-related titles in a given year, I can at least choose my own favorites. In We Are the Shapes, Kevin Jenner is calling upon his own inner Oliver Jeffers to bring us the story of warring squares and rectangles. Filled with an abundance of shape puns (the circle can’t pick a side in this squabble because, as you know, circles don’t have sides) you learn some pretty decent shape facts in the midst of all the silliness. There are cute asides and visual gags and who doesn’t love a book in which enemies finally work together . . . and things go poorly as a result? Love the tone and the color schemes and the sense of humor. Shapes up quite nicely (did you see what I did there?).
Want to see other lists? Stay tuned for the rest this month!
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 3 – Simple Picture Book Texts
December 4 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
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 – Gross 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 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 20 – Older Funny Books
December 21 – Science Fiction Books
December 22 – Fantasy Books
December 23 – Informational Fiction
December 24 – American History
December 25 – Science & Nature Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Best Audiobooks for Kids
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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