Whether you have a student who lives and breathes math or a reluctant one who balks at the idea of worksheets, living math books, where math is integrated into a story, might be the perfect tool for extra math learning. Unfortunately many story based math books are low quality in the sense that the math itself is either very basic or the storyline is contrived and uninteresting. The following resources have met my criteria for both covering math exceptionally well and also being something that a child might be motivated to pick up and read over-and-over again on their own.
This is a wonderful series of picture books by Cindy Neuschwander for the youngest of students. The stories follow the adventures of the Knight Sir Cumference of the Round Table, his wife, the Lady Di of Ameter, and their son Radius as they uncover geometric properties of various shapes and other math truths. Books in the series:
Sir Cumference and the First Round Table
Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi
Sir Cumference and the Great Knight of Angleland
Sir Cumference and the Sword in the Cone
Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter
Sir Cumference and All the Kings Tens
Sir Cumference and the Viking’s Map
Sir Cumference and the Off-the-Charts Dessert
Sir Cumference and the Roundabout Battle
Penrose the Mathematical Cat
The Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat by Theoni Pappas is by far our favorite living math book and great for kids aged 6-12, especially ones that enjoy animals and unusual math topics. When he was younger my son went through a phase of liking books that explore the perspective of animals trying to understand the human world and this one definitely fits into that category while also having an incredible amount of interesting math layered into it. The story part of it is a bit thin, but Penrose the Cat is such a fun character that you don’t notice too much. Topics include things that normally fall well outside of a typical elementary math curriculum including chapters on binary numbers, Fibonacci sequence, tangrams, and infinity. The sequels – The Further Adventures of Penrose and Puzzles from Penrose are also worth getting if the first book is a hit with your student.
The Number Devil
The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure by Hans Magnus Enzensberger is about a boy visited by a math loving demon in his dreams. Covers both basic and advanced number concepts in a casual way with a highly integrated and whimsical story. The chapters on Fibonacci numbers and Pascals’ triangle are particularly well done. Perfect for ages 8 and up.
The Murderous Maths series by Kjartan Poskitt is our latest acquisition of living math books and I’m glad I splurged on the box set, because its been a huge hit! Each book covers a different topic and is a dense chapter book embedded with comics, diagrams, and boatloads of humor. The topics range widely from everyday math basics like geometry, measurement, and probability to quick mental math tricks to math trivia to far out there subjects like graph theory. The humor and presentation make it perfect for math lovers and not-so-mathy students alike, especially for those in the 9-12 year-old range. This series is published in the UK but easy to find on Amazon at a reasonable price and a few are also available in Kindle format.