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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Books About Math

Great books that complement the Primary Math curriculum and make for entertaining reads at the same time. 

As the school year winds down, teachers are already thinking ahead to resources for the year ahead—and parents are taking stock of ways to prevent the summer slide. Our Children's Librarian Julie Booker recommends great books that complement the Primary Math curriculum and make for entertaining reads at the same time. 


Book Cover A Second A Minute

Looking for a great introduction to many math objectives? Look no further than the "Math Is CATegorical" series by Brian P. Cleary and Canadian cartoonist Brian Gable. These books are fun, with short, rhyming text and great illustrations to help kids not only understand mathematical concepts, but remember them.

In A Second, A Minute, A Week with Days in it: A Book About Time, Cleary writes, “1 second is short, like the time that it takes to clap twice or hiccup or sneeze. It’s the time that you need to recite ‘one, one thousand.’ A minute has 60 of these.” The book touches on minutes in an hour, hours in a day, weeks in a year, etc. There is a reference to the American Pledge of Allegiance, but the other books in the series about measurement mention both metric and imperial units.

Titles include: The Action of Subtraction (“Whatever you are counting, it will take away a part, and leave you then with not as much as you had at the start.”); The Mission of Addition; A Fraction’s Goal, Parts of a Whole; How Long or How Wide? A Measuring Guide; A-B-A-B-A, A Book of Pattern Play; and On the Scale: A Weighty Tale


Book Cover City Numbers

Numeration is addressed in City Numbers, by Joanne Schwartz, photos by Matt Beam. As Schwartz says in her Afterword: “Take a look around. City numbers are everywhere.” Each photo of Beam’s tells a story of the urban world, from spray painted numerals, to advertised prices, to neon tubing, to moveable letters on a sign board. Ordered from 1 to 10, it includes percentages, decimals and whole numbers, with one long playful “sentence” of a bar code at the end. Also in the afterward, Beam explains how he started collecting his photos—an invitation for students to do the same. 


Equal Shmequal

Equal Shmequal, by Virginia Kroll, illustrated by Canadian Philomena O’Neill, is a sweet story about a group of animals playing tug-of-war. They struggle to figure out fair teams, trying out bear versus mouse, then an uneven number of players, plant-eaters versus meat-eaters, fur versus no fur. They have a discussion about halves, big and small, until finally they use a seesaw to solve the problem. An Afterward about what it means to be equal sums it all up.


Book Cover Triangle

Triangle, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Canadian, Jon Klassen, is a simple story that can be used to discuss attributes of geometric shapes. Triangle lives in a triangle house in a land of triangles. One day he travels to the land of squares to play a trick on Square. He pretends to be a snake to scare Square. When Square angrily chases Triangle back to his house he gets stuck in the triangular front door. (And check out sequels Circle and Square as well!) 

Book Cover Hurry Up Henry

Time is introduced in Harry Up, Henry, by Jennifer Lanthier, illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant. Best friends Simon and Henry are polar opposites. Henry is always being told to hurry up and Simon, to slow down. For Henry’s birthday, Simon plots with Henry’s grandma (who appreciates moving slowly) to turn back the clock to allow Henry an extra hour of birthday. This could be a great discussion starter for how our experiences of time can be subjective.


Book Cover the Enormous Potato

The Enormous Potato, retold by Aubrey Davis, illustrated by Dusan Petricic, could be used to talk about mass. This story begs to be read aloud; a farmer’s potato seed grows into a plant so large he needs to enlist the help of his family (including the dog, cat and mouse) to pull the potato out of the ground. The whole village joins in and enjoys the resulting feast.


Book Cover It Couldn't Be Worse

The classic tale It Couldn’t be Worse, by Vlasta Van Kampen, is a fun way to introduce capacity, beginning with a farmer’s wife’s complaining to a fishmonger at market about her full house (six kids and the grandparents). The fishmonger advises her to bring the goat into the house. She returns to market the next day, commiserating, “It couldn’t be worse!” Each day, another farm animal squeezes in until, finally, she kicks them all out. The farmer and his wife conclude finally that the situation is much better than it had been before.


Book Cover 50 Below Zero

A fun story to introduce temperature is 50 Below Zero, by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko. Jason’s dad is a sleep-walker. Jason finds him on top of the fridge, in the bathtub, on top of the car, and finally, outside in 50 below zero temperature, frozen solid. And so Jason drags his dad home for a defrosting in the bathtub. 


On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.

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