Monday, September 10, 2012

Learning Math Through Literature

Whether or not we think about it, much of our early education comes from storybooks. A great deal of what we understand about the world and how we should behave within it comes from stories we read or heard as children. We know that the kind-hearted characters are always the ones who prosper in the end, that trying again is the key to success, and that happy endings are worth working toward.

Children’s storybooks are a great way to teach academic concepts, and an article in The Reading Teacher* explores the use of children’s literature to assist in math instruction. Parents and teachers can use the books to introduce children to sometimes tricky concepts in an engaging way.

One recommended title is Arithme-tickle by Patrick J. Lewis, a book of appealing poems about a variety of mathematical concepts. Other recommended books deal with specific areas of math instruction.  Earlier this year we wrote about using literature to help teach children about measurement.

Area and Perimeter

For a fun way to introduce children to the geometrical principles of area and perimeter, The Reading Teacher recommends Chickens on the Move by Pam Pollack, Spaghetti and Meatballs for All! by Marilyn Burns, and Bigger, Better, Best! by Stuart J. Murphy, as well as other titles that will keep children entertained as they learn.


Parents and educators who use literature to help explain mathematical concepts to kids will find a variety of options available for geometry instruction. Their search for just the right text may be over, however, when they discover Cindy Neushwander’s Sir Cumference series. The intrepid Sir Cumference, with the help of his wife, Lady Di of Ameter, and his son Radius use different strategies to solve various geometrical dilemmas that arise in Camelot and the surrounding lands. Titles include Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi, and Sir Cumference and the Sword in the Cone, among others. Younger children will enjoy the stories and gain some familiarity with geometrical principles. But the series is valuable for older children learning geometry in school as well; it’s hard to forget key geometrical terms and concepts when they’re presented in this format!


Multiplication may be introduced during the first few years of elementary school, but it is a concept that students will use throughout their lives. Unlike other types of math that kids may not revisit much after taking the chapter test (how many of us use scientific notation regularly?), students will use multiplication year after year, even after they’ve completed their schooling.

The Reading Teacher recommends several storybooks that will introduce students to the concept of multiplication so that they will be optimally prepared to embrace this important concept. Multiplying Menace: Rumplestiltskin’s Revenge by Pam Calvert, the delightful folktale One Grain of Rice by Demi, and Amanda Bean’s Amazing Dream by Cindy Neushwander will give kids some palatable background, leaving them ready to tackle their times tables.


Here at The Yellin Center, we often work with children who have difficulty with their math facts. Division seems to be a particularly tricky concept. Kids will often tell us that they had little trouble with multiplication, but that they just can’t get their division facts to stick.

The Reading Teacher recommends that parents and teachers try explaining division to kids with engaging storybooks like Splitting the Herd by Trudy Harris, the spectacularly popular One Hundred Hungry Ants by Elinor J. Pinczes, or Bean Thirteen and The Lion’s Share: A Tale of Halving Cake and Eating it Too by Matthew McElligott.

*Bintz, W. P. et al. Using Literature to Teach Measurement. (2011). The Reading Teacher, 65(1), 58-70. Unfortunately, this publication is not available online without a subscription.

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