God has a sense of humor. How else to explain the fact that for the past three or four years I have been a founding and contributing member of the Mathical Book Award committee? Yep, each year I read a slew of math-related books for kids. I do it because while I personally was not overawed by integers as a child (aside from enjoying the PBS show Square One, of course), there are a lot of kids out there who are. Where are their books? Since the founding of the award, it’s not as if the number of quality math books have increased significantly over the past few years. That said, I have begun to notice them more astutely.
Here are the best and the brightest relating to math in 2016. Books that even an entirely right-side-of-the-brain kid will appreciate on some level. And to keep it fair, I’m highlighting both books that incorporate math into the text and stories about mathematicians themselves.
2016 Math Picture Books
Billions of Bricks: A Counting Book About Building by Kurt Cyrus
I’m sort of stretching the definition of what constitutes a counting book as far as I possibly can. That said, this picture book is a subtle little number, implying to the reader that counting and math are essential when it comes to construction and architecture. It’s never explicitly stated, but you could explain it pretty easily after reading the book. Give it a go!
Counting in the Garden by Emily Hruby, ill. Patrick Hruby
I’m not always a fan of digital art, but there was something deeply satisfying in how the Hrubys chose to display the plants, insects, and animals of this book. From a design standpoint alone I think it’s notable. The counting is just the icing on the cake.
It’s Not Easy Being Number Three by Drew Dernavich
Not technically a counting book but since it involves numbers I figured it could fit in here. The number three decides it’s had enough and is quitting its job. It enters the real world, taking on different professions, before it becomes clear that the world is a lesser place without threes.
Octopuses One to Ten by Ellen Jackson, ill. Robin Page
Who doesn’t love octopuses? Particularly when you get to count them? At long last these odd alien-looking creatures get their due. Page’s work on the art is truly stunning as well.
1 Big Salad: A Delicious Counting Book by Juana Medina
I’ve grown very fond of counting books that include healthy food, these days. Anything that allows me to promote tasty veggies to my impressionable small children AND covers counting is gold in my book.
Swallow the Leader: A Counting Book by Danna Smith, ill. Kevin Sherry
First thought upon seeing this cover was to be reminded of Victoria Chess’s magnificent Ten Sly Piranhas. This lacks that book’s courage of its convictions, but is still a really fun and lovely reverse counting book.
Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley, ill. Jessie Hartland
It never rains but it pours. Last year saw the publication of one picture book biography of Ada Lovelace. This year has produced two, with more on the way in the future, I’m sure.
Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson
The crazy thing is, for all that they’re so strongly different from one another, there are elements that I like in both.
Real World Applications
Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics by Steve Jenkins
Do kids actually like infographics? I’ve never been able to answer that question so hopefully they do. Particularly when the visuals are as stunnng as the ones you’ll find here.
How Much Does a Ladybug Weigh? by Alison Limentani
I give full credit to my discovery of this book to New York Public Library’s recent release of its 100 Best Books of 2016 list. Had they not highlighted it, I never would have found it on my own. In this book it starts slowly with small animals. Oh, here, I’ll give you an interior visual:
Place Value by David Adler
To be fair, Circles was another Adler title this year, but if I had to choose between that and this, this would win every time. Cheeky monkey chefs walk your kid through different numerical values. Probably the smartedst explanation I’ve seen in a book for kids to date.
For Older Readers
I know this list says it’s just for picture books, but I’d be amiss if I didn’t include two of my favorite notes.
Rebel Genius by Michael Dante DiMartino
A co-creator of Avatar: The Last Airbender came out with a middle grade novel this year and it’s certainly exciting to read. In the book, students must learn geometry to fulfill their tasks. There’s not a ton of geometry in the book, mind you, but there’s just enough to keep you coming back for more.
Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang
How on earth did Gene Luen Yang convince his good people to allow him to produce a graphic novels series on coding? That man must have magical powers.
Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:
December 1 – Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Adaptations
December 3 – Nursery Rhymes
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – Calde-Nots
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Picture Books
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – International Imports
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Older Picture Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Graphic Novels
December 21 – Poetry
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Novel Reprints
December 30 – Novels
December 31 – Picture Books