Count on Us: 16 Inspiring Math Books for Kids
Let’s talk about math books for kids. Maybe you know a kid who already likes math. Or maybe you want to inspire a kid to appreciate math. What to do? What I see all too often is encouragement to get kids interested in computer science or engineering. But here’s the truth: math is its own thing! It’s hard to spot, because people have a better sense of what engineers and computer scientists do, and those careers are generally more visible in everyday life. But mathematicians are out there. Sure, their contributions to the world make everyday activities like secure online shopping and navigating via GPS possible. But math also makes the world better like poetry does, by being a unique expression of human thought under creative constraints.
Math textbooks can be a little dry, but luckily there are plenty of exciting books out there to introduce math concepts and prompt math-based activities for kids of all ages. The most basic concepts like counting and identifying shapes are well covered by math books for kids. But kids can be introduced to all kinds of mathematical concepts, like infinity, number base systems, and pattern recognition, even from young ages.
I’ve rounded up a collection of some of the best math books for kids. Some are books for teaching math, through text and activities. Others incorporate math concepts into a narrative, showing how math underpins everyday life. As a rule, I’ve tried to pick books that show what a creative and beautiful endeavor math can be.
Math Books for Kids About Counting
Count to LOVE! by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney
Even board books can contain great math lessons. Count to Love! shows an adorable way to count, raining affection onto fingers and toes and bellies. With a bouncy rhyme scheme, this book is sure to get little ones associating learning to count with precious time spent in a loved one’s arms. Even very young ones with short attention spans will be able to appreciate counting along to images of adorable babies. Babies love other babies!
100 Bugs!: A Counting Book by Kate Narita and Suzanne Kaufman
I’ll say it: counting is hard! One strategy for counting is to count things by grouping them. This is related, of course, to other mathematical concepts like place value and multiplication. 100 Bugs! Helps readers count to one hundred, which is perhaps the first truly impressive number a kid learns, by grouping things into tens and then counting by tens. A genuinely useful skill to develop facility with numbers, all told in a fun and bug-filled story.
Pigeon Math by Asia Citro
If you’re looking for a funny math book for kids, here you go. This storytime standout follows a kid trying to tell a story while keeping track of a group of pigeons. But those pigeons, they’re on the move. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: counting is hard! The kid uses a bunch of strategies to keep track of the pigeons. Readers can do the same, all while laughing along with the misadventures of our storyteller. The book always keeps the number under 10, making it a great choice among math books for kindergarten or any grade just becoming familiar with the basics of arithmetic.
Math Books for Kids About Shapes
City Shapes by Diana Murray and Bryan Collier
This eye-catching book is the perfect inspiration for a real-life math activity. In City Shapes, a girl wanders around New York City, identifying circles, triangles, and other shapes she encounters in the wild. One can easily imagine reading this poetic journey through shapes and then recreating it, either indoors or out. Explaining one’s perspective is an important part of communicating about math, and it can start as early as pointing out shapes.
Squares, Rectangles, and Other Quadrilaterals by David A. Adler and Edward Miller
Here’s a book that’s dense with information and facts about four-sided shapes. It doesn’t follow a particular narrative, but it encourages exploration of the kinds of shapes kids will come across in their environment. It includes various kinds of hands-on experiments about quadrilaterals. For example, clipping the corner from a standard envelope results in a little gizmo that can test whether the object inserted contains a right angle. For thorough examinations of other geometrical figures, David A. Adler has also written about Circles and Triangles.
Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan and Mehrdokht Amini
Islamic art and architecture is home to some of the most dazzling combinations of mathematics and aesthetics. And it doesn’t take a mathematician or an art historian to appreciate them; just check out this book! With a glossary in the back to define any unfamiliar terms, the book sends readers on a voyage around the Muslim world filled with beautiful shapes. This book would also pair nicely with learning about the Islamic Golden Age, during which many mathematical advancements were made — the words algebra and algorithm are derived from Arabic, after all.
Math Books for Kids About Other Topics
Which One Doesn’t Belong? Playing with Shapes by Christopher Danielson
If I had to choose only one book from this list to give to a kid in my life, this might be the one. It allows children to do mathematics in a really exciting way that mimics what mathematicians do. They discuss math with colleagues; they create arguments about their findings. This book, which seems simple on the surface — find the shape that doesn’t belong — creates rich scenarios with multiple possibilities for correct answers. The explanation is more important than the answer, which is how deep understanding of mathematical knowledge is demonstrated.
Seven Golden Rings: A Tale of Music and Math by Rajani LaRocca and Archana Sreenivasan
Even if you don’t know how to decode them, you probably know that binary numbers are integral to how everything electronic operates. Seven Golden Rings is a delightful story following a clever boy named Bhagat who is faced with a mathematical conundrum. He carries his entire family’s fortune on his quest to win his place at the Rajah’s court. His ingenious solution to how to efficiently spend that money also gives an early lesson in binary numbers.
Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! by Art Coulson and Madelyn Goodnight
Everybody seeking math books for kids should invest in the Storytelling Math series. Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! is one entry in the series, introducing spatial concepts like volume and area in the tale of a Cherokee boy named Bo determining how to show off his traditional marbles for the Cherokee National Holiday. The book incorporates Cherokee words while it also demonstrates the kind of mathematical thinking kids can do in their own lives. Other entries in the series investigate concepts like division, estimation, measurement, and more.
Math at the Art Museum by Group Majoongmul and Yun-ju Kim
It’s not just shapes that budding mathematicians can identify when they’re out and about in the world. Math at the Art Museum introduces more concepts like symmetry and patterns that have importance in both mathematics and art. This book could pair with a trip to a local art museum or with the creation of art that incorporates the mathematical concepts within. Books that pair creativity with math are great for combatting the stereotype that math is cold or rigid.
How Many Mice Make an Elephant? And Other Big Questions About Size and Distance by Tracey Turner and Aaron Cushley
There’s a kind of question known as a Fermi problem, that asks for an impossible-to-know number but seeks an answer nonetheless. A classic is “How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?” These questions ask people to make a series of guesses using logic, estimation, and any prior knowledge to work out an answer. This book is basically Fermi problems for kids, with goofy questions taken seriously and broken into logical steps. So how many times do you think a kangaroo would have to jump to cross all of Australia? Read the book to find out the answer.
The Flying Birds by Eun-sun Han and Ju-kyoung Kim
It’s quite simple to find picture books about counting and the simple arithmetic of addition and subtraction. It’s tougher to find multiplication embedded in a story. So here you go! This book shows a man who cares for his local wildlife by building birdhouses. But birds multiply, and he must do some calculations to figure out how to accommodate his burgeoning population. The expressive illustrations pair nicely with the math lesson.
The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity: A Tale of the Genius Ramanujan by Amy Alznauer and Daniel Miyares
There are plenty of picture book biographies about mathematicians out there, but they don’t always aim to explain the concepts the mathematicians worked on. But there’s nothing quite as intriguing as infinity. See how readily kids will call it up in an argument, inventing new numbers like “infinity plus one.” If you know such a kid, introduce them to how one mathematician thought about infinity with this book. And then see what kinds of numbers they throw out in their next argument!
Math Activity Books for Kids
Outdoor Math: Fun Activities for Every Season by Emma Adbåge
Who says you have to stay in the classroom to do math? Math activity books for kids have taken us onto city streets, to the art museum, and now into nature. This book covers a variety of topics, including arithmetic, shapes, greater than/less than, patterns, time, and more. If you’re looking for books for teaching math, perhaps in a less formal setting like a summer camp or a scout troop, this book will surely have ideas for you.
What’s the Point of Math? by Ben Ffrancon Davies and Junaid Mubeen
For kids who are curious and fact-driven, this book is sure to satisfy. Engaging with topics including trigonometry, probability, and logic, kids will find brainteasers, games, and more. While the point of math isn’t always a neatly contained concept, the authors make their argument for what makes math essential for everyone. The book also dives into a little of the history of how mathematical knowledge has developed over time.
Math Games Lab for Kids: 24 Fun, Hands-On Activities for Learning with Shapes, Puzzles, and Games by Rebecca Rapoport and J.A. Yoder
While getting the basics of arithmetic and geometry are key for math learners, enrichment can show the wider world of math and pique interests in a different way. So many of the topics covered in this book provide insight into topics kids may not learn about until much later, like fractals, Möbius strips, and graph theory. It also includes vital topics like the fractions. With tons of games and activities, this book is just the thing to shake things up at home or in the classroom.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s out there in the world of math books for kids. I highly recommend checking out the Mathical Book Prize for children’s books vetted by mathematicians, librarians and educators. If you’re looking to find people in real life who love math, see if there’s a Math Circle near you. And for great mathy picks for readers of all ages, check out this additional (see what I did there?) list of books.