Friday, April 30, 2010

Children's Math Book Reviews

With a sick student (or two) we've been doing a lot of reading. What incredible affirmation as to the power of math combined with literature! Little Student made connection after connection. So on our "no school" day, we learned a TON. (Or is that 2000 lbs?) Here are our top picks:

My opinion about The Wishing Club; a Story About Fractions by Donna Jo Napoli, totally changed. When I read it alone, I wasn't terribly excited. When I read it to my student, his enthusiasm was catching. In the book, siblings, ages 8, 8, (twins), 4, and 2, wish on a star. Over several nights they discover that their wishes are granted in fractions, determined by their ages: 8yos get 1/8, 4yo gets 1/4, 2yo gets 1/2. My student quickly understood the concept of fractions, exclaiming after the second page (which shows four 1/4ths make 1), "then one penny is 1/5th of a nickel!" In the story, the siblings put their wishes together to make one whole wish and get the wish that all of them want. [Concept: fractions]

My current student and I have not talked much about probability. The book, A Very Improbable Story, by Edward Einhorn, proved to be very effective when introducing the topic. Ethan, the main character, wakes up to find a cat, "Odds," attached to his head. An improbable event, indeed! He can only remove the cat if he is able to win in a game of probability. Several games are played and the odds of winning are thoroughly discussed in each scenario. By the end of the book, my student talked about the odds of Ethan winning or not winning the games. He also got a good laugh at the question at the book's end...what's the probability that you will open the book to a page with a picture? (Odds: 32 in 32 or 100% chance.) [Concept: probability]

In Equal Shmequal by Virginia Kroll, some animals witness children playing a game of tug-o-war and set out to play their own game. It quickly becomes obvious, however, that they have a problem making the sides "equal" with five animals competing. But even when the sides have equal numbers, the groups still aren't fair because the weights aren't equal. They set about figuring out how the animals' weight can be evenly distributed by balancing on a park teeter-totter. But when the bear is distracted by honey, they learn that equal effort is also important. Super cute. [Concept: equality]

The Candy Corn Contest by Patricia Reilly Giff is part of "The Kids of Polk Street School" series, chapter books for young readers. This book has a reading level (R.L.) of 1.9 (first grade, ninth month). I read it aloud to my sick 7yo. The story captivated him and he would read ahead over my shoulder and then hide his eyes because he was nervous about the events.

The main character, Richard, would like to guess the number of candy corns in the Thanksgiving class contest. Problem is, each guess is earned by reading a page in a book and Richard is not a good reader. Left alone with the candy jar, temptation becomes too much and he secretly eats several candies. Then what is he to do? He learns the teacher has written the number of candies on the bottom of the jar. Should he change the number? When the class ultimately shares the candies, the reader can think about division. [Concept: estimation, briefly division] Easy reader chapter book.

365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental is an oversized picture book that provides many opportunities for problem solving. Each day, beginning January 1st, a single penguin is delivered to this family's home. After two months they have 31+28 penguins. Then they organize them into 4 groups of 15. But yikes! What about the food? They eat 2.5 lbs of fish/day at $3/lb. By the 100th penguin, it's getting expensive. They decide to arrange the penguins like eggs, in dozens. 12 boxes of 12 penguins. Later, they're stored in a cube shape = 6x6x6. By Dec. 31st, they have 365 guests. At last, Uncle Victor, the ecologist, arrives to transport the penguins. But, on January 1st, another BIG box arrives. Uh oh! [Concept: problem solving]


  1. I'm sorry your kids are sick, but thanks for the book reviews!!! It's really helpful. I continue to really appreciate what you're doing here!

  2. Yes, thanks for these great reviews. We read the last one, 365 penguins, and the others all but one I managed to order them from the library! Ain't that great!
    I believe that they may be over my girls comprehension, but I'd like to check them, and, who knows what they'll get from them. In any case, it's good to already have seen them for future references too.


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