Math Picture Books

Math Picture Books

While we’re taking a break from Saxon Math and trying to decide what to do next, I’ve gone off on a rabbit trail. Trying to look for new math curricula, I found an essay that talked about teaching the history of math. I thought that sounded like fun. Looking up books on how the Egyptians and Greeks did math, I found all sorts of delightful picture books. Here’s a list of what we’ve been reading.

1. The History of Countingby Denise Schmandt-Besserat illustrated by Michael Hays

This might be the best of the whole lot for our purposes. It’s just about the right age level and Bella seems to be able to follow it. We’re only about halfway through, but I could see adding this one to our library.

2. Senefer: A Young Genius in Old Egypt by Beatrice Lumpkin illustrated by Linda Nickens

Ties nicely in with Bella’s fascination with ancient Egypt. A story of a young boy with a talent for mathematics who accompanies his mother and little brother to the marketplace and is invited to go to scribe school. We’ve had fun learning to write numbers like the ancient Egyptians. I was a bit annoyed at the excessive emphasis on “Africa”: Senefer was a young African boy who lived in Africa.  All the characters looked distinctively African too rather than like ancient Egyptian art. There was definitely a bit of an agenda showing, thought it wasn’t so over the top that it got in the way of the story. And I liked the story and Bella did too.

3. What’s Your Angle, Pythagoras? A Math Adventure by Julie Ellis illustrated by Phyllis Hornung

A little anachronistic, not really all that historical except that the character’s name is Pythagoras and he figures out the Pythagorean theorem. The silliness (builders names Saltos and Pepros!) and historical errors drove me crazy, but the kids enjoyed it and had fun. And at least Bella has been introduced to the idea of a right triangle, to the Pythagorean theorem, and to the figure of Pythagoras.

4. The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky

The story of Eratosthenes and how he calculated the circumference of the earth. The math was totally over Bella’s head, but the story was kind of fun. We’ll probably revisit this one later when she’s old enough to understand the geometry.

5. Great Estimations by Bruce Goldstone

Haven’t had a chance to do more than glance at it yet, but the pictures sure are pretty. I love the idea of the book. It shows you what various amounts of various object look like and gives you some tricks for accurate estimation. I think I’d like to own this one as well. The kids do love looking at the pictures and if we kept it around long enough they might learn something too.

6. The History of Zero: Exploring Our Place-Value Number System (Math for the Real World) by Tika Downey

Probably too advanced for Bella. We’ll give it a shot.

7. The Real Princess: A Mathemagical Tale by Brenda Williams illustrated by Sophie Fatus

The math in this one is lost on my crew, but they love this interesting retelling of The Princess and the Pea with three different princes and princesses. We’ll need to revisit it at a later day when they are able to do some of the calculations.

8. Anno’s Magic Seeds by Mitsumasa Anno

A story about magic seeds that will keep you from being hungry for a year. Each plant produces two seeds. The man eats one and plants the other. The math gimmick is when the fellow who has the seeds figures out that if instead of eating one and planting the other he can plant both one year and have more and more seeds. Nice illustration of a geometric progression. Again, the math is too advanced for my crew, but the story is engaging enough and I think they got a little bit of the gist.

9. Anno’s Mysterious Multiplying Jar by Mitsumasa Anno

Uses clever illustrations to show the concept of factorials. Totally over their heads. But beautiful and fun.

10 Anno’s Counting Book

A lovely counting book with no words. Just a number on each page and you get to find all the objects in the picture that match the number. The village keeps growing from page to page as the seasons change. The kids love this one. Especially Ben.

Bonus:. Anno’s Journey Is not actually a math book, but is absolutely beautiful little wordless story of a man on a trip. Full of all sorts of amazing details to discover. You could spend hours lost in the pictures. Truly a delight and one I’m putting on my wish list.


Anyone know of any other good math picture books we should look for?


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  • Thanks, Katherine. I’ll never be the gardener you are. I’m much too haphazard and prone to neglecting it for months at a time. But it does give me peace and joy and I suppose that’s good enough. I just need to stick to low-maintenance plants.