Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Encouraging Reluctant Mathematicians at Home - Part 1

Encouraging and nurturing the love of mathematics can be a challenge both at home and in the classroom. One way to support reluctant math lovers is to get them reading about math. There are many terrific books that include mathematical content or challenging puzzles to solve. Here are some titles that will encourage children to stretch their mathematical muscles in a different way.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster - Take a journey with Milo, a young boy who drives through a magic tollbooth into the Lands Beyond and embarks on a quest to rescue the maidens Rhyme and Reason from exile and reconcile the estranged kingdoms of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis. This is a great book for kids enamored of words and/or numbers.

Grandfather Tang's Story: A Tale Told With Tangrams by Ann Tompert and The Warlord's Puzzle by Virginia Pilegard are both stories that revolve around an ancient Chinese puzzle made from a large square cut into seven pieces. The seven shapes include a small square, two small triangles, a medium-sized triangle, two large triangles and a parallelogram. Kids can read the stories and follow along with their own set of tangrams!

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure by Hans Magnus Enzensberger - With full color illustrations, this book tells the story of a twelve year old boy and math hater named Robert, who meets the Number Devil in his dreams. Over  the course of twelve nights, the Number Devil illustrates different mathematical ideas using things like coconuts and furry calculators. Along the way he also takes Robert to Number Paradise where he meets different mathematicians.

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett - Petra and Calder are preoccupied with Vermeer. When a Vermeer painting is stolen in transit from the National Gallery in Washington D.C. to the Chicago Institute of Art, they become intent on finding the painting and solving the mystery. Clues and mysteries abound.
  • Calder carries a set of pentominoes in his pocket at all times, so be sure to print your own set to use while reading this one!
  • Play pentominoes online.
  • Learn more about the book, the author, and the other books in the series at the Scholastic site
Brown Paper School Math Books by Marilyn Burns - Don't let the publication dates fool you into thinking these are out of date (one was first published in 1975!). These are great books for helping kids see that math is fun and for everyone.

The Book of Think: Or How to Solve a Problem Twice Your Size
The I Hate Mathematics! Book
Math for Smarty Pants

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart - Eleven year-old Reynie Muldoon is intrigued by an ad in the paper that asks “Are You a Gifted Child looking for Special Opportunities?” Reynie and dozens of other children show up to answer the ad and take a mind-boggling series of tests, but only Reynie and three others are left at the end. Puzzles and mysteries abound in this adventurous tale. Sequels include The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma.

Books by Greg Tang - Greg Tang has written a series of books that encourage children to look for patterns in math and find more "economical" ways of solving problems.

The Best of Times: Math Strategies That Multiply
Grapes of Math: Mind Stretching Math Riddles
Math Appeal
Math Fables: Lessons That Count
Math Fables Too: Making Science Count
Math for All Seasons: Mind-Stretching Math Riddles
Math Potatoes: More Mind-Stretching Brain Food
    The Man Who Counted: A Collection of Mathematical Adventures by Malba Tahan - Orginally published in 1949 as O Homem que Calculava, this book of mathematical puzzles was written by Júlio César de Mello e Souza and published under the pen name Malba Tahan.  The book is an enjoyable  series  of "Arabian nights"-style tales, with each story built around a classic mathematical puzzle. In each tale, Beremiz Samir uses his mathematical powers to "settle disputes, give wise advice, overcome dangerous enemies, and win for himself fame and fortune."

    The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin - Winston sees puzzles everywhere. Imagine his dismay when he gives his sister a box for her birthday, only to learn that it has a secret compartment containing four wood sticks with puzzle clues. Readers will solve puzzles right along with Winston and his sister Katie as they try to solve the mystery. The sequel to this book, The Potato Chip Puzzles, is also highly entertaining.

    Books by Theoni Pappas - Written in the same vein as the Brown Paper School Books, Pappas has written many books about math, my favorites of which are those where a cat explores the math in and around his house.

    The Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat
    Further Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat

      The Origami Master by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, Lissy's Friends by Grace Lin (picture books), and Fold Me a Poem by Kristine O'Connell George (poetry) are all books about origami. Paper folding is a great visual and spatial puzzler for kids and adults. It's also fun!
      Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra by Wendy Lichtman - Tess is an eighth grade girl experiencing typical middle school problems--friends breaking promises, peers cheating on tests, the boy that may-or-may not be interested--as well negotiating some drama at home. Tess examines everything logically and views her world through the lens of mathematics.
      "The way Sammy spoke about her mother made me think of what Venn diagrams look like when the two sets have nothing in common--like, for example, the set of odd numbers and the set of even numbers. Their intersection is called an empty set, because there's nothing in it. There's not one number that can be both odd and even. I didn't like thinking of Sammy and her mother like that--like an empty set." (p.49)
      While the book isn't necessarily about math, Tess has many interesting mathematical insights and how they relate to the world we live in. 

      That's it for now. Do you have a favorite book that offers something mathematical to puzzle over? If so, please share. I would love to add your ideas to this list.


      1. Would any of these be appropriate for a 1st-grader, either to read herself or to read to her? Thanks!

      2. All of the Greg Tang books are appropriate for young readers. The three origami book titles will also work for a first grade student.

        The rest of the titles are novels and more appropriate for grade 3 and up.

      3. I updated to add two picture books on tangrams. These are also good titles for young readers.

      4. You can't go wrong with MARVELOUS MATH edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins.

      5. Thanks! I'd suggest Blockhead, a biography of Fibonacci, but I haven't tried it out on my 1st grader yet.

      6. I'd also strongly recommend G is for Googol by David M. Schwartz. Suitable for younger readers. I first read The Number Devil out loud with my son when he was in kindergarten and he loved it. He's now ten and still reads it often.

      7. Thank you, Tricia!!! And thanks for posting this at Math Monday!
        Cindy :) @ love2learn2day