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New Books Add Up to Math Fun!

Stories + math skills = winning children's books! Check out a handful of titles that embed essential math skills within fabulous children's stories!

Monster Math Picnic Book CoverMonster Math Picnic is a title in the Hello Reader! Math series from Scholastic. The book (indeed, the whole series) lives up to its cover label, which cautions: WARNING: This book contains math -- and it's FUN!

Hello Reader! Math currently includes more than 25 titles. Written at four levels for students in Pre-K to grade three, the series combines good stories with math fun. Written to provide a positive introduction to mathematics, each book offers activities and suggestions for capitalizing on students' interest in the story and for extending the math lesson. Topics covered in the series include time, money, geometry, measurement, problem solving, place value, and -- of course -- basic computation.

Monster Math Picnic introduces kindergartners to the concept of "ten." This little treasure, written by Grace Maccarone, is more than a simple counting book, however. Its catchy rhymes encourage young children to think about the different number combinations that make ten:

"Are the monsters ready to go? Ten say yes. Zero say no...
Nine monsters come by air. One monster comes by land...
Eight monsters play in mud. Two monsters play in sand..."

Follow-up activities engage students in answering monster math riddles, creating math questions to puzzle their friends, and using buttons or beans to make different combinations of ten. The activities were prepared by Marilyn Burns, a well-known math educator and the author of The I Hate Mathematics Book!

The Case of the Backyard Treasure is another in this Scholastic series. This one, from Level 4 (grades two and three), addresses skills at the heart of mathematics -- thinking, reasoning, and solving problems. The story, written by Joanne Rocklin, models problem solving as Liz the Whiz & Co. use logic and their knowledge of measurement, geometry, and time to follow clues that lead them to a special surprise! Follow-up activities involve students in creating codes of their own and using math to create and figure out clues.

It's easy to focus on the math in the Hello Reader! Math series -- but don't forget the story! Invite students to retell the story. Their understanding of the math concepts will grow with each retelling.


On an island in the middle of the Sillabobble Sea
Lived a clever monkey in a sour lemon tree.
She ate lemons boiled and fried,
Steamed, sauteed, pureed, and dried.
She ate lemons till she cried,
"I'm all puckered up inside!"

Counting Crocodiles Book Cover The first page of Counting Crocodiles (from Gulliver Books/Harcourt Brace) introduces us to a monkey with a souring dilemma. She wonders how she might ever get across the Sillabobble Sea to a distant island where bananas would provide a welcome respite from her steady lemon diet. Complicating the dilemma is the fact that the Sillabobble Sea is infested with God knows how many crocodiles!

But the monkey has a plan for navigating the treacherous waters -- and it all has to do with counting!

Author Judy Sierra has created a delightful rhyming story that kids will love. The story's folk tale roots -- a clever monkey bent on outwitting a sea full of crocodiles -- shine through. And illustrator Will Hillenbrand is Sierra's perfect accomplice. His enchanting illustrations capture all the fun of (picture this!) "crocs dressed like Goldilocks" or "crocs with pink Mohawks." Invite students to look at the humorous detail in the illustrations. See the monkey's sourpuss on the opening spread. And invite students to look closely at the waves. How many pairs of crocodile eyes can they spot hidden in the surf? Where are the blender and the other utensils used to whip up lemony concoctions? What fun!

Counting Crocodiles is a fine counting book for kids, a hysterical picture book, and more! Teachers of older students should share this book with their charges as a wonderful example of the folk tale genre. Then challenge the students to choose another folk tale to rewrite in rhyming, picture book form!


Spaghetti and Meatballs for All Book Cover Marilyn Burns (remember her math activities in the Hello Reader! Math series?) introduces readers to the concepts of area and perimeter in the hilarious Spaghetti and Meatballs for All!

The Comforts are putting together the guest list for a family reunion. Thirty-two family and extended-family members will be coming for spaghetti and meatballs! Mr. Comfort will handle the culinary side of the event; Mrs. Comfort has the perfect seating plan for the guests. She'll rent eight tables and place four guests at each table.

On reunion day, the tables are set. Everything looks perfect. Enter the first guests -- the Comforts' daughter and her husband, with their two children.

"'Welcome,' said Mrs. Comfort.

"'Come, sit,' said Mr. Comfort.

"'Let's push two tables together so you can sit with us,' suggested the Comforts' daughter."

With that move, Mrs. Comfort's perfect plan suffers its first setback -- but things will get worse before they get better! Soon, table after table is joined and the eliminated chairs are shoved aside. Mrs. Comfort tries to explain her original plan, but her concerns fall on deaf ears. Soon there are no places left at the eight joined-together tables for the still-arriving guests!

Kids will love the comical situation. After all, they're in on the joke from the start, as the oblivious guests go about their table-rearranging. Soon mayhem and confusion, wonderfully captured in illustrations by Debbie Tilley, replace the perfect plan. But in the end Mrs. Comfort emerges with the perfect "solution."

"I knew you'd think of something," Mr. Comfort congratulates his wife. "Now, how many meatballs would you like?"

Again, Marilyn Burns offers a prologue for parents and teachers who want to extend their children's learning about the math concepts that are an integral part of Spaghetti and Meatballs for All! Burns encourages students to work with square tiles or cut-out paper squares to simulate the table layout as Mrs. Comfort planned it and to rearrange the "tables" to mirror what happens as the guests arrive!


This one isn't a storybook, but it's worth checking out anyway. Dealing With Addition

Playing cards might be frowned on in school -- even in study hall! But after reading Dealing with Addition (Charlesbridge Publishing), you'll be breaking out the card decks!

Author Lynette Long walks kids through a deck of cards. Then she invites them to put cards in groups, match pairs, and add cards together in different combinations to make the number ten. All that is good math practice, but in this case it's also setting the stage for a new card game that Long has created: Dealing with Addition.

The game is one that kids might play for hours -- without realizing that they're "dealing with addition"!

The graphics in Long's book are simple. They're playing cards. No frills. Just playing cards. Anything else might have been a distraction to the book's message: Playing cards can be a great tool for getting kids to think and to sharpen rusty computation skills!

Once your kids are avid "Dealing with Addition" players, you might check out Long's first book, Domino Addition.

These books are available at bookstores everywhere. If a book is unavailable, ask your bookseller to order it for you.

  • Monster Math Picnic (by Grace Maccarone, illustrated by Marge Hartelius), The Case of the Backyard Treasure Hunt (by Joanne Rocklin, illustrated by John Speirs), and other books in the Hello Reader! Math series are published under Scholastic's Cartwheel Books imprint. Spaghetti and Meatballs for All! A Mathematical Story (by Marilyn Burns, illustrated by Debbie Tilley) is published by Scholastic Press. Contact Scholastic, Inc., 555 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.
  • Counting Crocodiles (by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand) is published by Gulliver Books, an imprint of Harcourt Brace, 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, FL 32887-6777.
  • Dealing with Addition (by Lynette Long, Ph.D.) is published by Charlesbridge Publishing, 85 Main Street, Watertown, MA 02172, (617)926-0329.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2002 Education World

Updated 7/1/2002