The best books for helping your kids fall in love with math

Who am I?

As a boy, Joseph D’Agnese grew up absolutely convinced that he was terrible at two school subjects: math and science. Lo and behold—he ended up making a career writing about both! For more than seven years, he edited a children’s math magazine for Scholastic, and was rewarded for his work by multiple Educational Press Association Awards. His children's book about the Fibonacci Sequence, Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci, is available in five languages worldwide, and as a classroom DVD. Blockhead is an Honor Book for the Mathical Book Prize—the first-ever prize for math-themed children's books. Joe’s work in science journalism has been featured twice in the prestigious annual anthology, Best American Science Writing.

I wrote...

Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci

By Joseph D'Agnese, John O'Brien (illustrator),

Book cover of Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci

What is my book about?

The Fibonacci Sequence is legendary, and theoretically pops up in Nature, fine art, music, and even the stock market! But how did the famous number pattern get its name? Called “charming and accessible” by the New York Times, this picture book helps kids learn about the Medieval Italian mathematician who transitioned the Western world from I-II-III to the much simpler and elegant 1-2-3, unwittingly stumbling across the fascinating number sequence along the way. Activities and historical information in the book’s final pages provide a wonderful jumping-off point for further learning.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of How Much Is a Million?

Joseph D'Agnese Why did I love this book?

Big numbers are just as amazing to kids as dinosaurs, and for the same reason. They’re so incredibly huge that they boggle the mind. This book helps kids comprehend big numbers using everyday objects and scenarios. If a million kids sat on each other’s shoulders, how high would they be able to reach? How long would it take to count to a million? Once they master a million, your kid will be well on their way to tackling quadrillions, nonillions, and, heaven help us, decillions!

By David M. Schwartz, Steven Kellogg (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Much Is a Million? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 5, 6, 7, and 8.

What is this book about?

“A jubilant, original picture book.” —Booklist (starred review)

Ever wonder just what a million of something means? How about a billion? Or a trillion? Marvelosissimo the mathematical magician can teach you!

How Much Is a Million? knocks complex numbers down to size in a fun, humorous way, helping children conceptualize a difficult mathematical concept. It's a math class you'll never forget.

This classic picture book is an ALA Notable Book, a Reading Rainbow Feature Selection, and a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book for Illustration.

The repackage of this fun look at math concepts includes a letter from the author that…

Book cover of One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale

Joseph D'Agnese Why did I love this book?

This is a classic mathematical fable that has been brought to life by several authors. Demi sets the story in India, and it’s marvelous to watch how quickly the numbers add up when you take a single grain of rice and double it day after day. The illustrations, inspired by traditional Indian art, are breathtaking, and may well inspire your child to create their own mathematical art. At the very least, they’ll start demanding more tasty rice dishes at the dinner table.

By Demi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Grain of Rice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

Long ago in India, there lived a raja who believed that he was wise and fair. But every year he kept nearly all of the people's rice for himself. Then when famine came, the raja refused to share the rice, and the people went hungry. Then a village girl named Rani devises a clever plan. She does a good deed for the raja, and in return the raja lets her choose her reward. Rani asks for just one grain of rice, doubled every day for thirty days. Through the surprising power of doubling, one grain of rice grows into more…

Book cover of Grandfather Tang's Story

Joseph D'Agnese Why did I love this book?

Tangrams are ancient Chinese puzzles made of up to seven interlocking geometric shapes. As Grandfather Tang assembles his polygons, the animals he creates spring to life. You’ll be astonished to learn all the creatures you can make with a square, a parallelogram, and five triangles. Wooden or plastic tangram puzzles are easy (and inexpensive) to find online, but be sure to help your child make their own out of paper so they can get solid, hands-on experience seeing how they can transform a square into so many different shapes.

By Ann Tompert,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Grandfather Tang's Story as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This folktale told using ancient Chinese puzzles and watercolor illustrations has been beloved for over thirty years and is the perfect addition to your Father's Day reading list!

When Little Soo asks for a story, Grandfather Tang arranges the tangram pieces and two magic fox fairies spring to life. The foxes change shapes as quick as a wink, from rabbits to dogs to squirrels and geese. But their game turns dangerous when a hunter raises his bow. . . .

Originally published in 1990, Grandfather Tang’s Story will continue to delight new readers as the wonder of the tangram puzzle—and…

Book cover of The Phantom Tollbooth

Joseph D'Agnese Why did I love this book?

The world’s most bored kid travels to a strange land and discovers why learning is the greatest thing a human would ever want to do. Our hero, Milo, visits Dictionopolis and Digitopolis; meets Tock, a “watchdog” with clocks embedded in his sides; a wizard called the Mathemagician, and a 12-sided creature called the Dodecahedron. I still read this one at least once a year just to brush up on my ability to crack jokes and make puns.

By Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Phantom Tollbooth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

With almost 5 million copies sold 60 years after its original publication, generations of readers have now journeyed with Milo to the Lands Beyond in this beloved classic. Enriched by Jules Feiffer’s splendid illustrations, the wit, wisdom, and wordplay of Norton Juster’s offbeat fantasy are as beguiling as ever. 

“Comes up bright and new every time I read it . . . it will continue to charm and delight for a very long time yet. And teach us some wisdom, too.” --Phillip Pullman

For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only…

Book cover of The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure

Joseph D'Agnese Why did I love this book?

This is a higher reading level than the other books on this list, but it’s SO worth it. A bizarre creature drags a math-hating kid on a transformative adventure in the world of numbers. It’s all here: prime numbers, number patterns, even my beloved Fibonacci. The illustrations are beautiful, and the writing lighthearted and lovely. The author is a famous German poet who, as far as I know, has only written this one for kids. We’re lucky he did.

By Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Rotraut Susanne Berner (illustrator), Michael Henry Heim (translator)

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Number Devil as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Twelve-year-old Robert hates his maths teacher: he sets his class boring problems and won't let them use their calculators. Then in his dreams Robert meets the Number Devil, who brings the subject magically to life, illustrating with wit and charm a world in which numbers can amaze and fascinate, where maths is nothing like the dreary, difficult process that so many of us dread. The Number Devil knows how to make maths devilishly simple.

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The River of Eternity

By Bruce Balfour,

Book cover of The River of Eternity

Bruce Balfour

New book alert!

What is my book about?

1184 BCE. Ramesses III, who will become the last of the great pharaohs, is returning home from battle. He will one day assume the throne of the Egyptian empire, and the plots against him and his children have already started. Even a god can die.

Ray was raised with the teenage children of Ramesses as their friend, but his own mysterious past exposes him to threats inside and outside of the Egyptian court. When a prince is killed, Ray is framed for the murder and must run to protect Bull, the oldest son of Ramesses. So begins Ray’s dangerous journey from the snake pit of royal palace intrigue into a violent world of treachery and enemies that will take years to conquer if he can survive.

The River of Eternity

By Bruce Balfour,

What is this book about?

From the national bestselling author of The Forge of Mars and The Digital Dead, an Ancient Egyptian epic adventure thriller series, based on real events, for fans of Wilbur Smith, Steven Saylor, and Paul Doherty.

This is the first book of a series leading up to the event known as The Harem Conspiracy, the assassination of Pharaoh Ramesses III in New Kingdom Egypt (1184 BCE), which was led by members of his own family. Details were drawn from the first recorded judicial trial transcript ever recovered (Judicial Papyrus of Turin plus other fragments of the original papyrus).

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