Recommended Reads-Using Literature to Engage Problem Solving

  • by Kelly Harmon & Randi Anderson
  • Sept. 14, 2017, 4:02 p.m.

Children’s books can be effective vehicles for motivating children to think and reason mathematically. (Burns, 2004) A children’s book is a great way to launch or assess mathematical learning.

For every math unit, select 2-4 children’s books that contain situations related to the concepts and that allow students to use new skills and strategies.

Remember to ask yourself these questions when choosing books for your classroom.

  1. Is the book interesting and relatable to your students?
  2. Does the book present content that relates to the focus standards? 
  3. Is the math content developmentally appropriate?
  4. Will the math situation create a productive struggle?

How will you incorporate read alouds into your math instruction?


 Below are some of my favorite children's books that can be used to engage authentic problem solving in your math units. 

One is a Snail, Ten is a Crab

Summary-A counting by feet book


  • Counting
  • +1
  • +10
  • Multiplication
  • Use to create word problems


Ten Black Dots

Summary-What can you do with 10 black dots?


  • Introduce 10 frames
  • Create “My dots” books


Quack and Count

Summary-Seven ducklings take a rhyming look at addition


  • Counting back
  • Composing and decomposing 7
  • Select another group of animals and create an innovation of the text


One Hundred Hungry Ants

Summary-One hundred ants are going to a picnic. What is the fastest way to get there?


  • Practice counting big numbers 
  • Introduce 100’s chart
  • Determine ways to organize big numbers
  • Early division


Chicka Chicka 123

Summary-Numbers from one to one hundred climb to the top of an apple tree in this rhyming chant.


  • Practice counting 
  • Understanding zero
  • Determine ways to organize big numbers


Ten Sly Piranhas 

Summary: Ten sly piranhas are swimming in a river, but one at a time they disappear, until there is only one left


  • Counting back
  • Concept of separating
  • -1
  • Writing subtraction number sentences 


Ten Flashing Fireflies

Summary-Two children catch 10 fireflies and then release them.


  • +1
  • Making 10 
  • Counting back
  • Recording number sentences


The Best of Times

Summary-Simple rhymes gives kids hints on how to multiply any number by zero to ten without memorizing.


  • Concepts for multiplying by zero to ten
  • Proving reasonableness of the product


One Grain of Rice

Summary-A reward of one grain of rice doubles day by day into millions of grains of rice when a selfish raja is outwitted by a clever village girl.

  • Multiplication
  • Doubles
  • Exponents


The Great Divide

Summary:Eighty participants start out on a cross country race that sees their numbers divided in half at various points in the race until eventually only 1 racer crosses the finish line.

  • Division
  • Halves
  • Dividing by even and odd numbers 


How tall? How short? How far away? 

Summary: Introduces several measuring systems such as Egyptian system, the inch-pound system, and the metric system.

  • Compare systems of measure 
  • Accuracy 
  • Consistency
  • Formulate measure questions, hypotheses, and experiment with different measurement systems.  


Whole-y Cow!

Summary-Fractions are easy to understand, as well as entertaining, in this unique math concept book.

  • Halves
  • Fourths
  • Eighths
  • Thirds
  • Tenths



Summary-photographic representations of fractions, decimals, and percents

  • Concept of parts and wholes
  • Connections of fractions to decimals and percents
  • Conversion from fraction to decimal to percent


The Greedy Triangle

Summary-A triangle is bored with his life and wants to become another shape.

  • Attributes of 2 dimensional shapes
  • Transformations
  • Real world examples of 2D shapes


Shape Up!

Summary-Uses cheese slices, pretzel sticks, a slice of bread, graph paper, a pencil, and more to introduce various polygons, flat shapes with varying numbers of straight sides.

  • Vocabulary of geometry
  • Attributes of two dimensional shapes
  • Prefixes for numbers to twelve
  • Real world problems


For more children’s books linked to math concepts, visit the sites below. 

Math Solutions 

Math for Kids best children's books


Math Solutions Publications-Using Children’s Literature to Teach Math 


Kelly Harmon and Randi Anderson

About The Authors

Kelly Harmon & Associates began in 2001 with a mission of instructional coaching and providing rich literacy resources for educators and parents. Our work incorporates research-based best practices for teaching and learning.

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