There are a lot of fantastic books (and even a few movies) out there that are sort-of about math and then there are a ton more that are really about math. Your public librarian can help you find lots of great books. My purpose here is to share some of my very favorites and ones that focus on non-arithmetic topics. So much of what we focus on is the “big four”: adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. Certainly these arithmetic operations are super important but there are also so, so many other topics in mathematics that are equally important. I’m not very good at suggesting ages because I started reading my kids all kinds of stuff when they were very young. That being said, I’ve put the books in a sort of order…starting with books for younger children and moving up through books for older kids. You know your kids best so without further ado, here are some of my favorites…
Donald in MathMagic Land
I love, love, love this film! It was created in mid-century in the heyday of Disney “instructional” films. If you’re the same age as the math fairy, then you might have also spent Sunday evenings watching Disney films. So, for me there is definitely an element of nostalgia in watching this film but I also love so many things about the content (and the delivery is funny. Kids laugh out loud!): mathematical patterns in nature, mathematical ratios in architecture, using math to play billiards, mathematics in machines…the list goes on. This film can now be accessed via youtube and it’s just super fun. The ways you can use it for starting math conversations are endless. Watch and then try making some patterns or tessellations, explained here on mathfairy.com!
Bill Nye the Science Guy: Patterns
For older kids this is another super film. Like Donald it’s only about 30 minutes and it’s filled with cool ideas, connections to the real world and fun things to try. I love Bill Nye because he is constantly connecting science and, in this case math, back to the real world. It’s essential that kids start to see math all around them rather than as a discreet 40 minutes in the classroom. Bill Nye will do that! Again, a fun one to watch and then try a mathfairy.com project! You should be able to find this film at your local library.
Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst
This is a picture book story of a youngest brother, Alexander, who has two older brothers. Alexander is a very real little boy with a typical, hilariously depicted love-hate relationship with those older brothers. He has an equally hilariously depicted and equally confused relationship with money! This story provides plenty of fodder for conversation about money and my favorite thing to do with this book is to actually break out the coins and dollars as we follow the saga of Alexander and his money.
Jim and the Beanstalk by Raymond Briggs
Obviously, from the title, this picture book is a take-off on the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale. I love this book because it’s all about measurement and scale. Jim helps the giant get glasses and other essentials. There are darling drawings of Jim walking through the city carrying the giant’s enormous eyeglasses, not to mention the huge gold coins the giant pays Jim with. I’ve only read and talked about this book but it’s so quirky and funny that you could even use it with older kids who are working on scaling geometric figures. It would be really fun to explore sizes using measurement skills, comparing different family members.
LawnBoy by Gary Paulsen
This is a fantastic chapter book about a 12 year old kid with a funny grandma who gives him an old ride-on lawn mower for his birthday. It’s summer time and he’s a bit bored so he decides to mow the lawn. Through a series of mishaps and chance meetings, our hero learns a lot more about money than he ever bargained for. Thanks to an unusual friendship with a stockbroker named Arnold he also learns all about the stock market. I love to have kids select a stock to follow for a couple weeks while we read the story. We all learn tons and have great conversations about money, investing and how companies work. I’ve also had kids do some great data collection and graphing with the stock market information. It’s so much more fun than collecting other kinds of data because we’re watching a company we’re interested in while watching LawnBoy make his fortune!
Have fun with math every day!