Math books add learning to love of literature

June 29, 2009

Allow your school-age kids and teens to have fun with math over the long vacation with some of these books that have entertaining and interesting math concepts.

“A Million Dots”

By Andrew Clements, illustrated by Mike Reed

For ages: 7-10

The premise of “A Million Dots” is to visually show its readers just how much a million is, and it does so by counting dots. Just by looking at the cover, readers will know that this book will be exciting with its colorful, dancing letters. When readers open up the book, they find an orange colored page with no illustrations. This allows Clements to start out slowly, explaining his topic. He shows readers what 10, 100 and 500 computer-generated black dots look like on a page. Readers will be surprised to see that even 1,000 dots on a page do not look like much, because they only take up a small portion of it. However on the next several pages, Seurat-like artwork created by Mike Reed incorporates dots to explain the concept of 1 million. Each picture is labeled with the amount of dots used to create it, as well as a tally of how many dots have been used in the book so far. Interestingly, each illustration’s dot total correlates to a numerical fact. For example, a picture of the world with an outer-space view used 24,901 dots, which is the number of miles around the Earth’s equator. Another picture of milk jugs tells readers that it would take 200,000 pennies to fill up 22 1-gallon milk containers. These illustrations go on to count 999,999 dots, leaving the last dot a special page all its own where Clements reminds us that 1,000,000 is a lot of dots.

“An Abundance of Katherines”

By John Green

Dutton, 2006

For ages: Teen

In this teen novel, award-winning author John Green explores higher mathematics though his protagonist Colin. When readers meet child prodigy Colin, he has just graduated from his Chicago high school and also just has been dumped by his girlfriend, Katherine. Colin is a quirky young man who enjoys anagramming the names of things, as well as dating only girls named Katherine, 19 in fact. With real math diagrams, Colin devises a theory that he hopes will predict his future with girls. Facing the reality that he is single and possibly intellectually washed up, Colin and his best friend embark on a summer road trip. Along the way, Colin and Hassan make an unplanned stop in Tennessee where Colin meets a girl named Lindsey who could change everything. This book is full of sarcastic, nonmathematical dialogue and, with the use of footnotes, Green gives readers a lot of back story without going off on long-winded tangents. Also included is an extensive index with a full explanation of the math Colin discusses. The index is written by a mathematics professor from the University of Chicago, and it could be an interesting inclusion in high-school math classes.

“Math Curse”

By Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith

For ages: 6-10

In this number-crunching picture book, children will be challenged right along with the young student protagonist who is haunted by what her math teacher has said the day before: that almost everything can be thought of as a math problem. When our unnamed math hero wakes up the next day, she is cursed! She cannot stop thinking about typical math problems throughout her day. Each page spread has interesting earthy-colored, collagelike illustrations. Their dreamlike quality gives great visuals for children interested in solving the problems. The narrator states her math challenges, allowing readers to help solve them. The math concepts range from basic to more complex ones about subjects like time problems, graphs, measurements, multiplication, fractions and even basic algebra.

“Sir Cumference and the First Round Table: A Math Adventure”

By Cindy Neuschwander, illustrated by Wayne Geehan

Charlesbridge, 1997

For ages: 8-12

In this mathematical spoof of Camelot, we meet Sir Cumference who is one of King Arthur’s most trusted knights. Camelot is facing the possibility of war, so King Arthur and his knights meet to discuss strategy. Sir Cumference has to shout to be heard at the end of the king’s long, rectangular table. His wife, Lady Di of Ameter, and his son, Radius, help him work through many different shaped tables until they decide that a round table would be the most efficient. Shapes such as parallelograms, triangles, octagons and diamonds are discussed and shown in illustrations as the carpenter’s drawings. Also covered are the concepts of diameter, radius and circumference. Colorful pen-and-ink drawings of Camelot make this story come to life. If readers enjoy this book, Sir Cumference has other math adventures, including Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi, Sir Cumference and the Sword in the Cone and Sir Cumference and the Great Knight of Angleland.