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31 Days, 31 Lists: Day Ten – 2016 Math Picture Books

31daysGod 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

Counting 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

1bigsaladI’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:


howmuchladybug2On the next page that one grashopper has become two and you get to see what two grass hoppers weigh as much as.

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



About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Animals by the Numbers is one of my favorite books of the year. I love how Steve Jenkins did scrupulous researched to find facts that highlight fascinating patterns in nature, compiled data sets to show each concept to its best advantage, and then developed an astonishing range of visual representations to make the information accessible to kids with a wide range of learning styles. The amount of creative thinking required to synthesize the complex ideas and information in this book and conceptualize a fresh way to reach his young audience proves to me, once again, that Steve Jenkins is a genius. If I were on the Newbery committee, I would fight hard for this book.