Teaching Math with Picture Books

I’ve always been a word person rather than a number person.  Though I was a pretty good math student, it was my hardest subject—and I still sometimes have to think twice (or more) when using math.  For example, I have my bedroom clock set so that when the alarm goes off at 7:00, it is really 6:45—then I can hit the snooze twice before I have to get up.  Well, last week we had some bad weather—trees down, power out.  When the electricity came back on, I set my bedroom clock for 15 minutes before, instead of after, the real time—and then spent a couple days wondering why I was 30 minutes late to everything.

Here are some clever and fun picture books to use in your math classrooms.


One Foot, Two Feet by Peter Maloney & Felicia Zekauskas. 9780399254468. 2011. Gr PS-1.

Children will not only practice counting from one to ten, but will also learn all about irregular plurals—one foot, two feet; one mouse, three mice. The lower left corner of the spread shows how far they have counted so far, and the current number is written somewhere on the right-hand page.  This book is a fun way to learn about “exception-al” nouns!

More by I.C. Springman (ill. Brian Lies). 9780547610832. 2012. Gr PS-2.

This is really not a counting book, but it tells a great story using only terms about unspecific amounts.   Sad Magpie has nothing at all, until a friendly mouse offers him a marble.  With the marble in his nest, Magpie is happier:  he has something!  But that’s not enough.  Soon his stash goes from several to lots to plenty…to a bit much.  Finally, his mouse friends tell him that he has way too much and more than enough!  Will Magpie ever see that less is more?  With one exception, each lovely spread in this picture book includes 1-4 words… plenty to tell this story of a lesson learned.

More books about counting:

Basher 123 by Simon Basher. 9780753467725. 2012. PS-1.

How Many Jelly Beans? by Andrea Menotti (ill. Yancey Labat). 9781452102061. 2012. Gr K-2.

Ten Little Caterpillars by Bill Martin, Jr. (ill. Lois Ehlert). 9781442433854. 2011. Gr PS-1.


1+1=5 : And Other Unlikely Additions by David LaRochelle. 9781402759956. 2010. Gr K-2.

This unique math picture book—one of my favorites—is creative and asks kids to think outside the box.  The first right-hand page asks “1+1=3?” Turn the page to find out that “1 unicorn + 1 goat = 3 horns!”  You’ll find out that 1+1 can be anything from zero to hundreds.  I also like the fact that we get clues on the question page—for “1+1=14?” we see an eight-legged spider and a six-legged ant hanging around the garden.

This Plus That : Life’s Little Equations by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (ill. Jen Corace). 9780061726552. 2011. Gr K-2.

The equations in Rosenthal’s book go beyond numbers.  What is the answer to “barefoot + screen door + popsicles?”  Summer!  As with the previous book, you can have kids come up with their own equations…and watch their creativity bloom.

More books about computation:

Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie : Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems by J. Patrick Lewis (ill. Michael Slack). 9780547513386. 2012. Gr 1-4.

Help Me Learn Addition by Jean Marzollo (phot. Chad Phillips). 9780823423989. 2012. Gr K-3.

Mystery Math : A First Book of Algebra by David A. Adler (ill. Edward Miller). 9780823422890. 2011. Gr 3-6.


Just a Second : A Different Way to Look at Time by Steve Jenkins. 9780618708963. 2011. Gr 1-4.

Teaching time with a twist, Just a Second can be used in both math and science classes. Seconds are over quickly, but a lot can happen in that amount of time. While you can blink your eyes only seven times in one second, a hummingbird can beat its wings 50 times; a fast human can run 39 feet, while a peregrine falcon can dive 300 feet.  Jenkins gives similar treatment to time periods from minutes and hours to years, as well as “Very quick” and “Very long.” He also provides four timelines: the universe, earth’s human population from 1750-2050, the life spans of plants and animals, and finally, the history of time and timekeeping.  While this is for upper elementary students, it would be great for those who like to use picture books to introduce units to their older students.

More books about measurement and time:

Small, Medium, Large : A Book about Relative Sizes by Emily Jenkins (ill. Tomek Bogacki). 9781595722782. 2011. Gr PS-1.

Monday Is One Day by Arthur Levine (ill. Julian Hector). 9780439789240. 2011. Gr PS-1.


Seeing Symmetry by Loreen Leedy. 9780823423606. 2012. Gr 2-5.

The concept of symmetry is taught along with shapes, and we can see that faces are symmetrical, but Leedy’s book goes way beyond that.  She shows how some letters have either vertical or horizontal symmetry—or both (A or B or O), as do many words (MOM or COOKIE).  Rotational symmetry spins around—think of a four-bladed pinwheel which has four matches as it rotates in a circle.  Animals and other objects need symmetry to move.  Kids are encouraged to discover symmetry in art, holiday symbols, buildings, and many other places.

More books about geometry:

Area (My Path to Math series) by Marsha Arvoy. 9780778767800. Gr K-2.

Blogger:  Tracey L.