Math Book Magic Revisited: Books that Invite Children to Join the Mathematical Story

It has been a year since I started this blog. My children and I have read over 200 math picture books and found 35 magical math books among them.

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Of course what makes a math book magical is subjective, but here’s the definition we used to determine whether a book was magical for us.

Magical math book: A math book that inspires wonder, excitement, and/or delight for both reader and listener.

The both in the definition was key.  Some books my children loved, but I found difficult to get excited about because of mathematical errors or their didactic tone. And vice versa, some books I found lovely, but my children found boring. The books on our booklist were magic for both my children and me.

Over the next year, in addition to sharing new magical math books,  I’d also like to revisit some of our older posts in an effort to clarify this definition by compiling and sharing a list of magical math book ingredients.

Some of the math picture books we read seemed like a book of worked examples. These books would lay out the calculations for us, state definitions,  tell us relationships/patterns involved, and give us their solution. To be honest, I’d often gloss over some of the equations weaved into the text in these books since there was nothing really to discover and my children never really noticed nor cared.

In contrast, there were books we read where the authors were clearly interested in what we, the readers, thought. In fact they prompted us to join in. These books had the first magical ingredient: invitation.  These books extended authentic invitations for us to join the conversation, to share, create, and explore mathematical ideas, to co-construct a mathematical story.

Here are some examples of authors of books that did have this ingredient and snippets from our previous blog posts highlighting why.

  1. Tana Hoban. With over 110 titles, there are many books to choose from this author. We talk about 3 of her books here. I love this quote from Hoban herself which illustrates her focus on creating books that invite children to join her in mathematical conversation and exploration.  “I try in my books to catch a fleeting moment and an emotion in a way that touches children and makes them want to respond. … Through my photographs and through open eyes I try to say, ‘Look!’ There are shapes here and everywhere, things to count, colors to see and always, surprises.” (Tana Hoban, 1986).
  2. Christopher Danielson’s Which One Doesn’t Belong? and his latest book How Many?. Here is what I wrote about an experience I had using WODB with my son’s 1st grade class. One does not become a geometer by simply walking down a magical yellow brick road neatly laid out before you. You need to collect the bricks yourself, decide where they should be placed, and puzzle over how to lay them down. You need to build your own path, ask your own questions, wonder, try,  fail, and try again. These first graders studied these sets of shapes carefully. They made connections. They described shapes (smooth, corners, vertices, points in, round.) They named shapes (circles, Squares, rectangles, diamonds, rhombus, muffin, sort of a fidget spinner). And they wondered about these names.  They noticed equal side lengths (congruence), the tilts and turns of shapes (orientation), and invariance (e.g, A square is a square even if it is tilted or really big). With the help of Danielson’s book, these 1st graders built their own paths through these shape sets.
  3. Malke Rosenfeld and Gordon Hamilton.  Socks are like Pants, Cats are like Dog. What I find refreshing about this book is the amount of noticing it affords. Children are invited to notice connections, similarity and differences throughout all the activities.

All of these books have that magical invitation ingredient. I learned so much about my children’s thinking as I listened to them engage with the prompts in each of these books. I hope you find these books as inviting as we did.


Have a magical math book you’d like share? Please go to the Shared booklist to find out how.  If you’d like to receive these magical math book posts, be sure to follow this blog in the side bar of this page.

Thanks and see you soon!  #mathbookmagic




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