Between the ages of 0 and 5, children organically explore mathematics through everyday play. Stacking blocks, pouring water, running races, and drawing pictures all give kids opportunities to explore mathematical concepts ranging from estimation to measurement to the identification and manipulation of shapes.
The following picture books provide children with the language they need to articulate and apply quantitative concepts that they often already intuitively understand. Some of these books may even generate new ideas for play – which, in early childhood, means new opportunities to learn.
We All Count: A Book of Cree Numbers –Author and illustrator Julie Flett’s gorgeous counting board book pairs Cree and English text with child-friendly images from Cree life, such as uncles ice fishing, aunties laughing, and cousins picking berries. Flett’s pictures are stunning, and her lyrical words area joy to read.
Día de Muertos Números: A Day of the Dead Counting Book – Author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh’s lavishly illustrated picture book introduces children to counting in English and Spanish using imagery from the Mexican holiday known in English as the Day of the Dead. Like Flett’s book, Tonatiuh’s spare text and clever design beautifully incorporate bilingual vocabulary into mathematical learning.
10 Gulab Jamuns – In this picture book by Sandhya Acharya, two brothers must resist eating the delicious Indian dessert their mother has made for visitors. A witty story that models counting backwards from ten and introduces basic addition and subtraction.
Pigeon Math – Zoey and Sassfrass author Asia Citro’s picture book begins with a group of ten pigeons sitting on a line. Unfortunately, a series of distractions reduces their numbers considerably. An intuitive and hilarious introduction to basic arithmetic.
Round is a Mooncake and One is a Drummer – These picture books by Roseanne Thong introduce shapes and counting in the context of an Asian American girl’s life. In Round is a Mooncake, the protagonist identifies square pizza boxes and dim sum containers alongside circular rice bowls and pebbles. One is a Drummer, which is set during a Chinese New Year celebration, features objects commonly found in the parade. (Note that Thong also has a Latine series that includes Round is a Tortilla and One is a Piñata that are exquisitely written and designed.)
The Shape of Home – This picture book by Iranian born author and illustrator Rashin Kheiriyeh follows Rashin, the beloved protagonist of Saffron Ice Cream, on her first day of school in the United States. Rashin’s classmates, who come from all over the world, introduce themselves by describing the shapes of their countries of origin, delivering a heartwarming message about immigration, change, and finding a new home on top of its mathematical content.
The World is Not a Rectangle – This picture book by writer and illustrator Jeanette Winter introduces children to the Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, whose love of art and mathematics led her to design some of the most innovative buildings in the world. The text in the book is especially whimsical, often following the curves and twirls of the gorgeous illustrations.
Too-Small Tyson – This picture book by JaNay Brown-Wood is the story of Tyson, the youngest – and smallest – of four brothers who uses his knowledge of proportions to rescue the missing family gerbil. A wonderful addition to the Charlesbridge Storytelling Math Series, which introduces math concepts through stories about protagonists of color.
Cerca / Close and Lejos / Far – These bilingual board books by former poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera are poetic, vibrant musings about the difference between close and far. Not only do the books introduce the idea of opposites, they also explore relative distance, which is the beginning of children’s understanding of estimation.
Patterns! – This National Geographic Kids picture book uses stunning photographs of wildlife to introduce children to basic patterns and to inspire respect for the natural world.