Thursday, March 15, 2007

Books That Measure Up

It's that time of year. The students have just returned from spring break and as I look over my syllabus, I grow weary, as I am STILL pushing my way through arithmetic. We have covered number sense, counting, place value, whole number operations and computation and estimation. Now we are well into fractions and decimals. I am so ready to move on. I think my students are too. Looking down the road, I am gleefully anticipating the arrival of measurement and the opportunity to do all kinds of wonderful activities.

As I begin to plan for this new topic, I find myself on the floor of my office, pulling books from the shelves, happily deciding which ones to use for lessons. Here are some of my favorite books on standard and nonstandard measurement.
  • I am CRAZY about the work done by Steve Jenkins. His size books are marvels, as are his comparative books. I can't say enough good things about them, so do check out ALL of these fantastic titles.
    • Actual Size - If the gorilla hand and pygmy mouse lemur on the cover don't grab you, check out the Goliath birdeater tarantula inside!
    • Big and Little - This lovely book offers pairs of animals that are related but vastly different in size.
    • Biggest, Strongest, Fastest - This book presents 14 record holders in the animal world along with some amazing facts about them.
    • Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest - Read this book to learn about some amazing places on Earth and how they measure up.
    • Prehistoric Actual Size - Following on the heels of Actual Size, this book features interesting aspects of prehistoric figures.
  • Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni - In this Caldecott honor book, an inchworm measures a robin's tail, a flamingo's neck, a toucan's beak, a heron's legs, and a nightingale's song in order to keep from being eaten.
  • How Big is a Foot? by Rolf Myller - When a king measures his wife for a bed (using his feet to pace off the distance), he is surprised when the bed that is made is much too small for the queen.
  • Jim and the Beanstalk by Raymond Briggs - The giant Jim meets at the top of the beanstalk is in sorry shape, so Jim helps by measuring him for new teeth, hair and eyeglasses.
  • Measuring Penny by Loreen Leedy - When a young girl is challenged by her teacher to measure things in a number of ways, she measures her dog and her dog's friends using both standard and non-standard (dog biscuits, cotton swabs, etc.) units.
  • Esio Trot by Roald Dahl - A lovestruck Mr. Hoppy is determined to find a way to Mrs. Silver's heart. When he provides her with some strange language to make her tortoise grow bigger, amazing things begin to happen to Alfie's (the tortoise's) weight.
  • Millions to Measure by David Schwartz - Marvelosissimo the Magician explains the development of standard units of measure, and shows the simplicity of calculating length, height, weight, and volume using the metric system.

  • George Shrinks by William Joyce - George wakes one morning to find that he is three inches tall and that his parents have left him to mind the house and his younger brother. This is a terrific look at what life would be like if you were smaller in size than a toy soldier.
  • Pair the above book with this wonderful poem by Shel Silverstein, found in Where the Sidewalk Ends.
    One Inch Tall
    If you were only one inch tall, you'd ride a worm to school.
    The teardrop of a crying ant would be your swimming pool.
    A crumb of cake would be a feast
    And last you seven days at least,
    A flea would be a frightening beast
    If you were one inch tall.

    If you were only one inch tall, you'd walk beneath the door,
    And it would take about a month to get down to the store.
    A bit of fluff would be your bed,
    You'd swing upon a spider's thread,
    And wear a thimble on your head
    If you were one inch tall.

    You'd surf across the kitchen sink upon a stick of gum.
    You couldn't hug your mama, you'd just have to hug her thumb.
    You'd run from people's feet in fright,
    To move a pen would take all night,
    (This poem took fourteen years to write--
    'Cause I'm just one inch tall).

  • To keep the theme of "little people" going, read one of my favorites from childhood, The Borrowers by Mary Norton. In this book, the Clock family lives under the floorboards of a country house in England where they "borrow" objects for their home, making use of such items as matchboxes for storage and postage stamps for paintings.
  • Is It Larger? Is It Smaller? by Tana Hoban - No math collection is complete without the fabulous wordless books of Tana Hoban. Using stunning photographs, the book introduces young children to examples of big and small in the world around them.
  • How Tall, How Short, How Far Away? by David Adler - This book introduces the history of measurement and looks at several measuring systems, including the ancient Egyptian system, the US customary system and the metric system.
  • How Big is Big? by Stephen Strauss - This is a lovely book of poems that examines at the relativity of measurement terms, such as big and small, fast and slow, deep and high. Here is an excerpt from the book.
How big is big?
A super fat pig?
A giant tomato?
A skyscraper potato?
No, bigness is something no one can consume,
Like how many oceans
Fit into the moon.

There are many other books about measurement found within different math series, including Stuart Murphy's MathStart (I love these), Hello Math Reader, Math Matters, Math Counts by Henry Pluckrose, and many more. Even though our state curriculum includes time and money in the study of measurement, this list focuses largely on length, mass and volume. Please let me know if I've missed any stand-out titles.


  1. I just spend part of the morning measuring with my son's 2nd grade class. (I didn't see any measuring books, though.) The big hit was measuring blue-colored water.

    Thanks for the titles. I will look for them.

  2. Tricia,

    This is a great list of books!

    Try to find a copy of N. M. Bodecker's poetry book WATER PENNIES. It has two poems, "Inchworm" and "Keeping in Step," that I used to share with my second grade students when we did a math unit on measuring.

    Here's an excerpt from the "Inchworm" poem:

    An inchworm
    a bit of string,
    and as
    she walked
    I heard
    her sing...

    And this
    was her
    was nineteen

    "Keeping in Step" is told in the voice of a centipede.

  3. Thank you for providing such a wonderful list of books. I am currently a student teacher and have to create many lesson plans. Your list of books have helped me plan a great measurement lesson for my second graders. Thanks!!