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Math and Reading Do Mix!

Share Math instruction has been given a big boost by the whole-language movement. An area of the curriculum once far divorced from reading and literature is now the subject of some delightful children's books. This week, Education World takes a look at three books that connect math concepts and reading. Included: Books that help teach the concepts of big numbers, addition, subtraction, and multiplication.

"I hate math!" How many times have you heard adults say that? Since kids are great mimics, why should it surprise math-phobic adults that kids might develop the same kind of dislike?

Thanks to the current movement toward integrating literature with all curriculum areas, publishers are creating some fun -- even interesting -- literature that promotes mathematics learning. This is literature even a math phobic could love!

Consider Big Numbers, for example!


Book Cover ImageBig Numbers and Pictures That Show Just How BIG They Are (Millbrook Press) is an appropriately big title for a romping new book that introduces elementary-school kids to the concept of large numbers. Though the "big numbers" get top billing in the title, the "pictures" will draw kids' initial interest. Salvatore Murdocca's humorous illustrations give joyous voice to the concepts worded by Edward Packard. The result: Kids can't help but get big numbers!

To set the stage for learning big numbers, Packard selected an unusual point of comparison -- the pea! What a wise choice it is, for what kid doesn't have strong opinions about peas? Now that Packard has grabbed kids' attention, he can go about teaching the concepts of big numbers using "concrete visualization."

Murdocca expertly carries out Packard's charge!

The first page depicts a lonely pea on a plate. When young readers turn the page, they are greeted with a spread that concretely introduces ten peas, then 100 (a small helping), 1,000 (a plateful), and 10,000 (a couple of months' worth of servings).

Pete, the main character in Big Numbers, and his companions -- including a spotted dog and a striped cat -- explore the idea of big numbers in successive spreads. And the mound of peas grows! A big pile covers the tabletop when the number 100,000 is introduced. Wide-eyed, Pete explains, "That's 100 x 1,000 peas," and the cat thinks, "Or 10 x 10,000," and the dog looks at the covered tabletop and wonders, "Where's the beef?" An inset illustration explains 100,000 in another way: Earth's hand reaches out toward the moon as moon stretches its hand to meet Earth halfway. An arrow indicates the distance between the two (240,000 miles). Moon encourages Earth, saying, "Come on, Earth. You're almost there."

Successive spreads explore even bigger numbers -- with humorous asides from Murdocca's cast of characters, interesting comparisons, and a mountain of peas that grows exponentially!

Speaking of which, Packard also introduces the concept of exponents -- and the idea of infinity. And he explains that some words associated with numbers -- a zillion or a gazillion, for instance -- are not really numbers at all!

From a billion to a trillion, then a quadrillion by the time we get to 10 to the 27th power, Pete and his friends are aboard a spaceship looking down at Earth, which -- you guessed it -- looks like a tiny pea!

Big Numbers and Pictures That Show Just How BIG They Are has earned a place on kids' bookshelves right alongside David Schwartz's popular How Much Is a Million? Now that's big praise for any book!


Book Cover Image Multiplication is a tough concept for many kids to grasp. Indeed, many kids learn times tables without fully understanding the simple concept that underlies them -- that multiplication is an easier form of addition. Now, along comes Amanda Bean -- the poster child for multiplication misunderstanding!

Amanda loves to count. Her friends even call her "Bean Counter" because she sees everything as a counting challenge. Amanda loves to count so much that she can't see the sense in learning to multiply -- in spite of the urgings of her parents and teachers, who try to explain how learning to multiply will make the counting process even easier!

However, as luck would have it, everything changes one night. Amanda is so focused on counting that even her dreams involve counting -- but this night she is so overwhelmed by the counting challenges in her dream that multiplication finally makes sense to her. ("Y-a-a-h-h-h!" cheer the sheep in Amanda's dream when she finally gets it!)

Amanda Bean's Amazing Dream (produced under the Marilyn Burns Brainy Day Book label by Scholastic Press) was written by Cindy Neuschwander, who also wrote Sir Cumference and the First Round Table. Pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations by Liza Woodruff add real kid appeal -- not to mention countless opportunities to multiply! And Burns, a nationally known math educator, offers ideas for teaching the principle of multiplication and for extending the story and learning.


Since we already mentioned Marilyn Burns, we must mention the Hello Reader! Math series from Scholastic.

Book Cover Image Many writers author books in this paperback series, but each volume includes a note to parents and math extension activities written by Burns.

One of the latest titles in the series -- Cats Add Up!-- teaches addition and subtraction concepts to students in grades 1 and 2. The main character, a girl, is a cat magnet. Before Mama knows it, the family's home is a turned into a concrete example of addition for young readers. One or two or three at a time, the home has become a haven to ten cats then Mama starts sneezing!

Signs are posted around town, and after several subtractions, the family is back to one cat -- and Mama's sneezing fits are under control.

Cats Add Up! joins two dozen other titles in the Hello Reader! Math series. Just type "hello reader math" into the search engines of the big online booksellers, and handfuls of titles will pop up. Following are just a few:

Level 1 (grades Pre-K through 1)

  • Monster Math (number sense)
  • Monster Money (money)
  • Tic-Tac-Toe: Three in a Row (logic)

Level 2 (grades K through 2)

  • Just a Minute (time)
  • The Silly Story of Goldie Locks and the Three Squares (geometry)
  • Slower Than a Snail (measurement)

Level 3 (grades 1 and 2)

  • The Biggest Fish (measurement)
  • Even Steven and Odd Todd (number sense)
  • The Lunch Line (money)

Level 4 (grades 2-3)

  • The Case of the Backyard Treasure (problem solving)
  • The Case of the Missing Birthday Party (place value)
  • The Case of the Shrunken Allowance (money)

The books highlighted above are available in bookstores. If you are unable to locate any of the titles, ask your bookseller to order them for you or contact the publishers directly.

  • Big Numbers and Pictures That Show Just How BIG They Are, written by Edward Packard and illustrated by Salvatore Murdocca, is published by Millbrook Press, 2 Old New Milford Road, Brookfield, CT 06804.
  • Amanda Bean's Amazing Dream, written by Cindy Neuschwander with pictures by Liza Woodruff and math activities by Marilyn Burns, is published by Scholastic Press (a division of Scholastic, Inc.) Call 1-800-SCHOLASTIC.
  • Cats Add Up! and other books in the Hello Reader! Math series are published by Scholastic, Inc. Call 1-800-SCHOLASTIC.

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

From the Ed World Library

Updated 7/1/2002