Math Board Book Magic ✕ 4

Mathematical thinking begins in the early years with real-world exploration and conversation. This post features a lovely set of board books for exploring and talking math with young children.

The Book(s)

The Charlesbridge Storytelling Math series brings the magic once again. This time with their four board book collection by author/illustrator Grace Lin. Grace Lin has written and/or illustrated over 25 books. From her picture book A Big Mooncake For Little Star (winner of the 2019 Caldecott) to her early reader Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! (winner of the 2011 Geisel) to her middle grade novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (winner of the 2010 Newbery), you can’t go wrong with a Grace Lin book. Grace explains how this board book project came to be.

When my daughter was born eight years ago (before We Need Diverse Books came onto the scene) I was pretty frustrated with board books. I found very few starring babies of color, and most were part of the Global Fund for Children series. Those, however lovely, still gave the impression that non-white babies were slightly “exotic” and not commonplace in mainstream America. So, that planted a deep seed in me to create a board book that showed babies of color doing ordinary, everyday things. A few years later, during an NCTE conference, I saw the Baby Loves Science series at the Charlesbridge booth. I was extremely excited and told senior editor Alyssa Mito Pusey about how I had been wanting to make similar books. We brainstormed a couple ideas but nothing seemed right.

[Source: Horn Book interview. Grace shares a similar story in this wonderful video about the Storytelling Math]

Luckily, a year or so later, the right project did come along. Alyssa contacted Grace again and explained Charlesbridge was teaming up with TERC to create a Storytelling Math series. Grace recalls the conversation between her and Alyssa.

“Would you be interested in making math board books?” Alyssa asked.

“Math?” I hesitated. “Like numbers?”

“No, we want to show that math is more than numbers, that math is ordinary and just a part of our everyday lives.”

[Source: Horn Book Interview]

Grace was in! The project resulted in four math-themed board books spanning four seasons. Up To My Knees explores the measurement of sunflowers planted in spring. Circle, Sphere explores bubble shapes popping in the summer sun. What Will Fit? involves collecting and comparing fall harvest items. And The Last Marshmallow explores sharing on a cold winter day.

Lin’s vibrant images and simple text provide the perfect launch into real-world exploration and math talk as children follow the experiences of three friends: Mei (inspired by Lin’s daughter), Olivia, and Alex.

This set of board books is perfect for ages 0-2 and makes a great baby shower or first birthday gift.

The Math

These board books explore math in everyday life. In Up To My Knees, Mei uses measurement as she compares the height of a sunflower plant to different heights on her (e.g., up to her toe, her waist). In Circle, Sphere, Mei, Olivia and Alex explore shape. While experimenting with bubbles, the children observe some shapes are flat (2-dimensional triangles, circles and squares) and some shapes are round (dimensional spheres or balls) and wonder what shapes different bubble wands will make. What Will Fit? explores spatial sense and how shapes fit together in different ways. In the The Last Marshmallow, Mei and Olivia have to decide how they will share three marshmallows fairly between two.

The last page of each book gives examples of ways to explore the mathematical concepts more with children.

Endpages of Circle, Sphere by Grace Lin with Mathematical note by Doug Clements

The Charlesbridge website does a great job offering more ways to engage with the mathematical ideas from each book. For example, if you go here and click on the “Downloadables” tab, you’ll find more explorations for the mathematical ideas in Up To My Knees.

The Magic

Math Book Magic is about sharing books that inspire wonder and joy and recently it brought me so much joy to give this set of board books to a friend to celebrate the birth of her baby. Even though my children have aged out of the board book stage, I shared all four books with my 5 year old and here is some of the magic that resulted (my 11 and 9 year old even joined in some of the fun).

The Last Marshmallow is a sweet story about sharing, which is a great context for math stories. Landon is always concerned whether all will work out fairly in the end. [Here are some other magical books featuring sharing we’ve shared here, here, here, and here.]

When we got to the page where Mei and Olivia are deciding how to share their marshmallows, I asked Landon who he thought would get the last marshmallow. He chose one of the girls and started to make a “Mmmum, mmmmum, mum, mum” cookie-monster sound. And then on the page where the sharing of the one marshmallow is solved, Landon face lit up , surprised to see it was possible to share one marshmallow! And once again, he made ‘mmmmummmm, mmmum, sound, pretending to eat his own imaginary marshmallow. Last Marshmallow had the magical ingredient of surprise and engagement.

Circle, Sphere is about blowing bubbles and when you combine bubbles and children you are bound to see something magical. This was definitely the case with this book. Check out this awesome page spread below. What shapes do you think these shapes make?

From Circle, Sphere by Grace Lin

After I read the book, I ordered these wands to play with. They worked well, even though they ended up a lot bigger than expected. I’ll leave the answer to the question above for you to find out with the wands, by reading the book or better yet, both!

As with The Last Marshmallow, Circle, Sphere had the magical elements of surprise and engagement as well and I can imagine magical moments to be had with the other two books, especially coupled with some spring planting and farmer’s market shopping.

Grace Lin, TERC, and Charlesbridge make a great team and one magical set of board books!


If you’d like to receive these magical math book posts every month, be sure to follow this blog in the side bar of this page. Be sure to follow my other blog, as well as I will be combining both blogs under one site, , in the future. Thanks and see you soon!  Touch #mathbookmagic, pass it on.  

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