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Math readers — living math books

This is a short list of various math reader-type books that I either have read or otherwise feel worth recommending. Most math readers are simply storybooks with math concepts in them. Some books on this page aren't exactly storybooks but are written in a more engaging or interesting manner than what most school books are.

Parents engaged in teaching "living math" often use these type of books either to replace a math curriculum or supplement it.

I feel the most value in these types of books is two fold:

  1. They can get your child really interested in math.
  2. You get to study off-curriculum topics that often are very fascinating

Of course the mathematical concepts are also likely to stick better when they are "embedded" into a context of a story, game, or perhaps a mystery.

If you don't have the funds to buy math readers, you can probably find some in your local library.

For grades K-8

For preschool - grade 2

Family Math
by Jean Kerr Stanmark, Virginia Thompson, Ruth Cossey

This book is a classic. It includes a wealth of ideas for math activities and games to be done at home. The level of these activities ranges from kindergarten to middle school.

The book is a guide for parents and children to work together in active game play, solving problems, experimenting and even discovering. The activities are fun, and use simple objects found at home such as cups and playing cards and beans, paper and pencil and scissors, for some a watch with a second hand, and a $5 calculator.

If you're still stuck on the "school" mode of drill & worksheets for math instruction, this book is of tremendous help to get out of that into more towards "living" math direction (which doesn't mean that worksheets aren't useful — we can certainly use them, too).

Besides the basic Family Math book, there are others in the series, such as Family Math for Young Children.

Family Math at Amazon.com

Family Math for Young Children at Amazon.com

For grades K-2

Sticker Math Fun
by Usborne

A bright sticker activity book with hundreds of stickers. My kindergartner has really liked this book! It has different mathematically-sound activities for addition, subtraction, beginning multiplication, fractions and clock mostly on about 1st grade level. The activities are not just simple addition and subtraction, but include missing addends or subtrahends, number patterns, finding numbers that add up to a certain number, and so on.

Sticker Math Fun at Amazon.com

For preschool - grade 6

MathStart readers
By Stuart J. Murphy

Again, a series of storybooks for early elementary school with math concepts woven into the story. These readers sell for about $5-$6 each and are categorized into three levels: Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3.

Here is a long list of MathStart books at Amazon.

For grades 1-2

The Case of the Missing Zebra Stripes. Zoo Math
By Time-Life for Children

An assorted collection of fun math stories, games, riddles, and activities for early elementary grades. All have a zoo theme. The book is a hard-cover book printed on heavy paper, with full-color illustrations.

The stories and riddles touch on many concepts and math topics, including logical thinking, money, measuring, graphing, and calculations. They are all fairly short, with the exception of the title story about zebras. Children will enjoy this like a fun storybook that is read to them, or second-graders can read it themselves.

The latest I checked, you could buy used copies at Amazon for as low as $0.44!

The Case of the Missing Zebra Stripes (Zoo Math) at Amazon.com

How Do Octopi Eat Pizza Pie? book cover
For grades 1-2

How Do Octopi Eat Pizza Pie? Pizza Math
By Time-Life for Children

Another assorted collection of math stories, games, riddles, and activities for early elementary grades, this time with food themes. The book is a hard-cover book printed on heavy paper, with full-color illustrations.

The concepts higlighted in the stories and activites include capacity, patters, relationships, logical thinking, addition & subtraction, weight, parts of a whole, plane and solid shapes.

It seems you can get used copies at Amazon for as low as about $4 total.

How Do Octopi Eat Pizza Pie?: Pizza Math (I Love Math) at Amazon.com

Hello Math Readers
By Scholastic

These short books combine the right reading level with math concepts appropriate for the child's age. Each book is marked with "a level" from 1 to 4, which match approximately grades Pre K-4. Each storybook touches on one or few math topics. I have not personally seen them, but the good point is that you can often find used copies for as low as $0.01 at Amazon marketplace (shipping will be added).

List of Hello Math Readers at Amazon.com

For grades 6-12

The Adventures of Penrose, the Mathematical Cat
By Theoni Pappas

Perfect book for early teens or tweens, the storyline includes Penrose the mathematical cat who seems pretty lazy but often gets interested in her mistress' math papers and thus ends up learning about this and that in math.

Penrose learns the truth about infinity, 0s and 1s (binary numbers), fractals, Mobious strip, Pascal triangle, golden rectangles, paperfolding, tessellations, abacus, magic squares, tangrams, nanoworld...

All these topics are really interesting — and usually outside of the normal curriculum. They show some of the beautiful or fun or intriguing aspects of math.

Penrose makes for fun reading, exploring exciting mathematical topics in an easy-to-understand way. You could almost say this book is about "Math appreciation". We are told to teach our kids art appreciation, to teach them to appreciate fine arts, paintings, sculptures. In my opinion, learning about these fascinating math topics can go a long way towards teaching children to appreciate math.

The Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat at Amazon.com.

For grades 6 on

The Cryptoclub. Using Mathematics to Make and Break Secret Codes.
By Janet Beissinger and Vera Pless

You will follow the Cryptoclub kids as they strive to break the codes of secret messages, and at the same time learn more and more about encrypting and decrypting.

The Cryptoclub is very clearly written and illustrated, in full color, and clearly laid out. I truly enjoyed The Cryptoclub. It is SO interesting! How could you lay a book down when there is a secret message to unravel!

The book contains problems to solve at the end of each chapter, little tips, and historical information how crytography has been used over the centuries. By solving the problems you can actually learn to do all of it yourself.

The book starts out with the very simplest systems that even 3rd-4th graders can learn, and then proceeds gradually till it finally explains the widely-used RSA system.

This book is perfect for motivating teenagers interest in math. It lets them study something fascinating outside the main curriculum — cryptography — which is at the same tiem a highly useful application of math.

The Cryptoclub: Using Mathematics to Make and Break Secret Codes at Amazon.com.

For grades 10 on and math enthusiasts

Crimes and Mathdemeanors
By Leith Hathout

This delightful book contains short mystery-type stories. The central figure is Ravi, a teenager, who often helps his lawyer dad to solve puzzling cases of various crimes. Each mystery is solved with the help of mathematics. The reader can try solve it by himself at first, and then read a short analysis for help, and finally a complete solution.

The storylines are fresh, well-written, and to the point. The mathematics level in the solutions is meant for high schoolers or beyond. This book is sure to intrigue AND entertain math enthusiasts, young and old alike. I enjoyed it a lot.

Crimes And Mathdemeanors at Amazon.com.

For grades 7 on and general public

Mathematics: The Science of Patterns
By Keith Devlin

An excellent book! Devlin has chosen to delve into six major parts of mathematics with a strong historical viewpoint. You will get a fantastic basic view of what mathematics is all about plus a course in math history. The book discusses big mathematical ideas without using formulas to keep it accessible to laymen.

This book conveys mathematics as a beautiful field of study. I've always enjoyed knowing the background of mathematical ideas from history. You will get that from this text in a beautifully illustrated package. The reviews left at Amazon are worth reading!

The book has chapters such as "Counting", "Shape", and "Position". Each chapter explores mathematical ideas at large, sometimes explaining some in more detail. The sidebars and pictures give lots of perspective. I have not read many other books covering history of mathematics, but after this one, I'm not sure if others could compare.

This book is definitely worth buying for a general perspective of what mathematics is all about. I almost feel it should belong to any scientifically minded person's home library. Like Devlin says, he's tried to "...convey the essence of mathematics, both its historical development and its current breadth".

Mathematics: The Science of Patterns at Amazon.com.

For grades 6-7

For grades 8-9

For grades 6-7

For grade 10

Dr. Math books
By The Math Forum

While technically speaking these books are more lesson-oriented and less like storybooks, I want to include them here because of the friendly, even humorous, presentation.

Dr. Math's books are very easy reading, with light tone, clear layout, and humorous cartoons by Jessica Wolk-Stanley. But the best part is of course that the explanations to math questions are superb, accurate, and clear.

These books just might do it, when it comes to getting grips with algebra or geometry!

Dr. Math Gets You Ready For ALGEBRA is a pre-algebra book, Dr. Math Explains ALGEBRA is on algebra 1 level, Dr. Math Introduces GEOMETRY is meant for middle school, and Dr. Math Presents More GEOMETRY is for high school.

These books are meant for study companions or supplements for your math curriculum. They contain questions/answers that have been collected from Dr. Math's archives - asked by real students over several years, and answered by experts at the Math Forum.

The questions are chosen and organized so that together with the answers, the material covers most of the geometry or algebra course in a coherent way. Please note though that the books do not contain practice exercises. They are not complete algebra or geometry courses.

Please see my earlier reviews of Dr. Math's geometry books and algebra books for more information and pictures.

Dr. Math Gets You Ready for Algebra: Learning Pre-Algebra is Easy! Just Ask Dr. Math!

Dr. Math Explains Algebra: Learning Algebra Is Easy! Just Ask Dr. Math!

Dr. Math Introduces Geometry: Learning Geometry is Easy! Just ask Dr. Math!

Dr. Math Presents More Geometry: Learning Geometry is Easy! Just Ask Dr. Math.

Bears! Bears! Bears!
by Scholastic

A great book for little ones that involves a set of plastic bears. All of the activities involve the bears in some way, and deal with such concepts as basic adding, adding in groups, dividing bears into groups, estimating length, or comparing.

Typically the book costs less than a dollar used (+ shipping). The used copies may not include the bears but you could use other little objects or figurines.

Bears! Bears! Bears! at Amazon.

For grades 1-4

King Joe books

This is a series of absolutely delightful storybooks for grades 1-4 that are designed to teach math vocabulary. King Joe goes to the fair or the beach, or has a garden, etc. and nearly everything happening to him has a mathematical "taste".

Each of the books is near 100 pages long (some more, some less) and comes with a set of flashcards that have the math words on one side, and on the other, explanatory pictures from the story.

The purpose of the books is about math vocabulary - words children don't encounter often and so may have difficulty in learning. It's all wrapped up into a delightful, engaging story. These books do not just show some pictures with explanations of the words. The whole idea is that you remember much better an interesting story than plain words without a context.

The main characters have their own personality, there is a definite plot or storyline, the story is amusing, with full-color pictures on every page, so it is wonder it keeps children interested.

See also my earlier review of these books.