Math Book Recommendations by Robert Berkman

Robert Berkman’s Math Interest Books

P.A.L. wants to thank Robert Berkman for sharing his knowledge of math with our parents. Below are his Math Book Recommendations for lower to upper school students.

Robert Berkman has been teaching mathematics for over 25 years in both private and public schools in New York City. His work has appeared in Teaching Children Mathematics and Mathematics in the Middle School, both published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM.) He has given presentations at conferences sponsored by the NCTM and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), in addition to teaching graduate school courses at the Bank Street College of Education and New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education. He is currently the director of Better Living Through Mathematics, an educational consortium that provides innovative and dynamic mathematics programs and materials for teachers, children and parents.

 For Lower Schoolers

 Anno’s Counting Book, Anno’s Multiplying Jar, Anno’s Magic Seeds and others, Author: Misumassa Anno

Mitsumasa Anno writes engaging books for young children that deal with some basic and other not so basic concepts in mathematics, including counting, multiplying, and patterns. They’re beautifully illustrated and the carefully crafted to both inform and entertain.

The Grapes of Math, Math-erpieces, Math Fables and others, Author: Greg Tang

Greg Tang’s math books on numbers and their properties are very popular among parents and young readers alike, especially for their riddle formats done in entertaining rhymes.

One Grain Of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale, Author: Demi

This book takes the form of a folktale in which a young woman tricks a king into giving away his entire storehouse of rice to his hungry subjects using exponential growth. The illustrations show how a single grain of rice can be transformed into huge quantities through repeated doubling.

If You Hopped Like A Frog, How Much Is a Million?, G Is for Googol: A Math Alphabet Book, Author: David M. Schwartz

Another author who produces quality children’s books about mathematics, Schwartz explores complex ideas like proportionality (If You Hopped Like a Frog), and magnitude (How Much Is a Million?”) using visual imagery that explains the concepts clearly.

12 Ways to Get to 11, Author: Eve Merriam

A wonderful introduction to the concept of counting, addition and combinations, this book for 4 – 6 year olds models the idea that there are multiple ways to add numbers to make the amount.

Each Orange Had 8 Slices Paul Giganti (Author), Donald Crews (Illustrator)

This book develops the concept of multiplication as repeated addition by using everyday experiences.

Not Recommended

Unfortunately, there are also a lot of “bad” math books on the market, including those marketed by Kumon and anything that involves a tie-in to a food product. The Kumon books, while attractive, present mathematics as a series of disconnected math facts, leaving children with a weak understanding of what makes math fun and exciting. Books like “The Hershey’s Fractions Book” and the “Skittles Riddles Math” are nothing more than thinly veiled advertisements for junk food.

For Middle Schoolers

 Sideways Arithmetic From Wayside School, More Sideways Arithmetic From Wayside School, Author: Louise Sachar

These wacky books present children solving interesting math puzzles, from logic to number combinations, in humorous and innovative ways.

The Housekeeper and the Professor, Author: Yoko Ogawa

This memorable novel tells the story of a housekeeper who comes to care for a mathematician who has lost his long term memory. Along the way, she and her son learn about the wonders of numbers, while seeing how mathematics is more than a subject to be studied in school: it is a way of life.

Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, Sir Cumference and the Great Knight of Angleland, Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi, and others, Author: Cindy Neuschwander

These books take apart complex ideas like the relationship between a circle and it’s circumference and casts them into fun tales from the Middle Ages. Charming illustrations and clear explanations of the mathematics involved make them very engaging.

What’s Your Angle, Pythagoras?, Author: Julie Ellis

A fictionalized account of Pythagoras’ travels to Egypt and the development of the Pythagorean Theorem, this books integrates pictures, diagrams and stories to case the development of mathematics in a historical context.

The Librarian Who Measured the Earth, Author: Kathryn Lasky

Another historical look at the development of mathematics, this book tells the story of Eratosthenes of Cyrene, the chief librarian in Alexandria, Egypt, who conducted an experiment that calculated the circumference of the earth with remarkable precision.

Puzzlegrams, More Puzzlegrams, Puzzlegrams Too!, Authors: Pentagram

Classic brainteasing puzzles encompassing logic, permutations, combinations and other topics in mathematics. Beautifully presented and looks great on your coffee table!

Not Recommended:

Any books that promises to “cure” your child’s frustration with math in a few short lessons are highly suspicious.

For Upper Schoolers

 The Man Who Counted: A Collection of Mathematical Adventures, Author: Malba Tahan

This story uses the format of “1001 Arabian Nights” to challenge and entertain the reader with provocative mathematics puzzles, including the solution of how one can split 17 camels among 3 brothers equally. A classic of it’s kind, this was first published in 1948, and has won fame around the world.

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure, Author: Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Young Robert’s dreams have taken a decided turn for the weird. Instead of falling down holes and such, he’s visiting a bizarre magical land of number tricks with the number devil as his host. Starting at one and adding zero and all the rest of the numbers, Robert and the number devil use giant furry calculators, piles of coconuts, and endlessly scrolling paper to introduce basic concepts of numeracy, from interesting number sequences to exponents to matrices.

Aha! Insight, Aha! Gotcha: Paradoxes to Puzzle and Delight, and many, many others….! Author: Martin Gardner

The late Martin Gardner, who never went beyond high school mathematics, invented the term “recreational mathematics,” and over his more than 5 decade long career entertained and informed audiences young and old about the pleasures of playing in mathematics. Every one of his books is worth owning, as they present intriguing puzzles ranging from logic to geometry to number theory.

Mathematical Puzzles of Sam Loyd, and many, many others, Author: Sam Loyd

Sam Loyd was one of America’s greatest puzzle designers, and also a trickster and shameless self- promoter, who delighted amateur and professional mathematicians during the turn of the century. His books have recently been re-issued; his leaps of logic an be quite addictive.

In Code: A Mathematical Journey, Author: Sarah Flannery

“I have no doubt that I am not a genius,” writes Sarah Flannery, the 16-year-old Irish girl who won first place in the 1999 European Union Contest for Young Scientists. Nonetheless, her project about public key cryptography, the method used to transmit secure data over the Internet, created a media sensation.. She is breathlessly excited to get a phone call from a mathematician whose papers she has read, frustrated by the difficult math in research journals, flattered by media attention, and genuinely intrigued by the mathematics of encryption, which she valiantly explains. This book is both informative and inspirational.

Not Recommended:

Anything that involves the word “prep” in the title.

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