Focus on Math

Helping children become mathematicians!

Books! Books! Books! The Literature Connection (part 2) February 7, 2012

It seemed appropriate to follow up the last post with some more of my favourites. The books in these two posts are the ones I use over and over again when I go into different classrooms. I have many more books in my collection, but these are the “go-to” books that I keep reaching for.

Every Minute on Earth by Steve Murrie and Matthew Murrie is a great book to use with students in the grade 4-9 range. This book is chock full of interesting facts about the earth, space, the human body, technology, animals. food, pop culture, and sports. Many pages use many big numbers to tell about the event. For instance, on the page telling that more than 34,000 plant species are threatened with extinction each minute, the authors also tell the readers that seeds for more than 6 million different plant species are stored in 1,300 sites around the world. Of those being stored, about 15% are seeds for wild plant species. There are so many questions that can be generated from the numbers from this one-page story. Sometimes I ask the questions, but often I ask the students to generate (and solve) questions from the information.

Bat Jamboree by Kathi Applet can be used when you want students to explore adding sums of consecutive numbers. The story tells about the number of bats in different groups that are performing at the jamboree, starting with 1, then 2, … up to 10 bats. At the end all of the bats make a pyramid, and I always stop reading so students can figure out ways to calculate the number of bats in the pyramid. Elementary students do not generally come up with the sophisticated algebraic formula that some of you may have encountered [f(n) = n(n+1)/2], but it is rather amazing what patterns they can find.

How Many Feet in the Bed by Diane Johnston Hamm is a wonderful book for using with primary children. In the story a family of five (mother, father, young daughter, young son, and baby) get in and out of the parents’ bed in the course of a morning. It is a counting by two book on that level, and primary children tend to enjoy this. I have followed it by asking children to draw their family gathered in one bed and and telling how many feet. I have also given grade 2-3 children a scenario of a family with dogs and cats as well as children. Then, if I tell them there are 12 feet in the bed, I have them find different combinations of people and animals that make the requisite number of feet. It becomes a great patterning question if the people, animals, and feet are recorded on a chart.

I bought 365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental and Joelle Jolivet sight unseen. I was intrigued by the name, especially having grown up with a sister who was a penguin fanatic (actually, she still is!). I figured any book about penguins and numbers would have to be fun, and I was not disappointed. The premise of the story is that a family is being anonymously sent 1 penguin each day for a year, an oh! the numbers that are generated to play with. There are numbers about pounds of fish, cost to buy the fish, and storing the penguins, just to name a few. Questions can easily be created for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Students love the book — and so do I!! This one is a must-have. (Incidentally, the story was originally written in French, so it would be great to track it down in that language for any French Immersion classes.)

The 512 Ants on Sullivan Street by Carol A. Losi is a rhyme about ants carrying off the food set out at a picnic. It is basically a book about doubling. At the back of the book are some suggestions for activities written by Marilyn Burns. One Grain of Rice by Demi is an Indian folktale dealing with this same principle of doubling numbers. I have used both in the classroom many times.

Although most elementary and middle school curricula do not specifically include a logic component, I am fascinated by how well Akihiro Nozaki and Mitsumasa Anno handle the topic in their book Anno’s Hat Tricks. The reader is part of the book, called “Shadowchild” (since the shadow always can be seen on the page). Two children are in the story, always wearing hats. We are told how many hats there are (always in either red or white) and we can see the hats on the two children. From what we see, we, as Shadowchild, must deduce what colour of hat is upon our own head. (We can, of course, see in the shadow that we are indeed wearing one, but we cannot tell its colour in the shadow.) Each time the hats are changed the challenge level goes up. It is a great book to use with older elementary and middle school students.

I hope you have the opportunity to use one or more of these books in your classroom. I know your students will enjoy the literature connection, and I’m betting you will, too!

Mathematically yours,


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