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Picture books measure up

When I was a young student, I don’t recall learning about math concepts from picture books. Of course, I could simply have forgotten, but I do think it may be fair to say that there are more high-quality math picture books today than there were when I was a student.

Nowadays, whenever I begin a math unit, I am almost always able to find a selection of math books that will help to demonstrate the math concepts that my students will be working with during our lessons. Not only does reading a picture book about a math topic give my students another entry point into understanding math, but the books also help to demonstrate the real-world applicability of what can often seem like abstract concepts and skills.

Recently, my students began working on a measurement unit. Luckily for me, there are several great picture books about measurement. Here are a few that I used to launch my students into our study of measurement units and tools.

Measuring PennyMeasuring Penny by Loreen Leedy
Leedy’s book serves as an excellent introduction to measurement of all kinds. When Lisa receives a homework assignment that asks her to measure something using as many units as she can, Lisa more than rises to the occasion as she embarks on a quest to measure every aspect of her dog Penny’s life that can be quantified. In addition to measuring length, distance, and height, Lisa measures volume, cost, and amounts of time. This entertaining book provides an ample overview of all the different ways that we measure things with a broad survey of the units that we use to record information about our world.

How tall shortHow Tall, How Short, How Far Away? by David Adler; illustrated by Nancy Tobin
Adler’s take on measurement engages young readers by providing them with a few nuggets of information and then encouraging them to try out measuring using those units. This book gives a historical overview of units of measure used in ancient Egypt and explains why standard units are essential for measuring things with increased accuracy. Additionally, the book presents both the customary and the Metric systems and encourages students to practice using both systems of measurement. This book can easily spur a day (or more!) of hands-on math lessons in measurement for young students.

How big footHow Big is a Foot? by Rolf Myller
In Myller’s story, a king decides to have a bed made for the queen’s birthday, and hands off the measurements (measured in king-feet) to an apprentice, who then makes the bed using apprentice-feet. The bed-measuring breakdown that ensues not only thoroughly amused my students, but also provided a perfect entry point into discussing why we have standardized units of measure and what advantages these units provide over less standardized forms of measurement.


For more about picture books that support math lessons, see Audrey Quinlan’s article “What Makes a Good Math Storybook?” from the January/February 2015 Horn Book Magazine and Katrina Hedeen’s “From the Guide: Math Picture Books” book list in the same issue.

Nicole Hewes About Nicole Hewes

Nicole Hewes is currently serving as an impact manager at a public elementary school with City Year New Hampshire. She previously taught second grade in rural Maine for two years and received an M.Ed in language and literacy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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