10 Living Books for Elementary Math

If you’ve been around here long, you know I love living math!  One part of living math that makes so much sense for kids is connecting math concepts with literature.  If you’ve never tried it, you’ll be amazed at the understanding gleaned from a simple book that teaches the topic in a new and fresh way.

Living books illustrate math concepts in a way that is easy for children to understand!

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Today, I’ve compiled a list of my Top 10 favorite math books for elementary students.  Believe me, I could’ve listed many more!  These are pretty special to have made the cut!

Top 10 Living Books for Elementary Math

How Big Is a Foot? is one of my all-time favorites.  Set in the middle ages, a servant is asked to make a bed for the king, but measuring the bed in feet doesn’t seem to work.  Hmmm…Whose feet should be used as the standard?  (Check out a lesson using this book here.)

Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday reminds me of so many children who have a little money and then find the money gone in a blink of the eye.  Poor Alexander needs to learn better money management and coin counting skills.  Your children will love manipulating coins as you read aloud.

The Greedy Triangle meets a shape shifter that allows him to change shapes.  All sounds simple enough, but an accident might prove there’s a lesson in wishing for more.  There’s even a bonus teaching section in the book.  (Check out this YouTube reading of the book.)

Three Pigs, One Wolf, Seven Magic Shapes is an updated version of The Three Little Pigs with a math component.  A simple set of tangrams turns this unique tale into a hands-on problem solving activity.

The Quiltmaker’s Gift is such a precious, precious story about true happiness that comes from giving freely to others.  How does it tie into math?  We talk about quilt squares and have fun making our own out of construction paper or fabric.

The Doorbell Rang is another of my all-time favorites.  The story line is so simple that even a preschooler “gets” the concepts of fair shares, division and fractions.  (See a hands-on lesson using this book here.)

Jim and the Beanstalk is obviously a new take on Jack and the Beanstalk.  In this version, the giant is only mean because he isn’t living a very comfortable life.  Using measurement skills, the little boy sets out to make the giant’s life happier.  We love this tale!

One Hundred Hungry Ants teaches factors of 100.  100 poor ants spend so much time trying to get to a picnic faster that they miss out on all the food.  When we read this, I always have 100 of something (Cheerios, pennies, etc.) for my children to manipulate.

The Wolf’s Chicken Stew is a very sweet story that reinforces the number 100 for children.  The hungry wolf works so hard to fatten up the chicken that he ends up loving her family in the end.  This is great for 100th day of school celebrations.

No math literature list would be complete without Sir Cumference and the First Round Table – and all the other books in the series.  These books are simply brilliant.  Wonderful literature with fantastic math concepts woven all the way through – just brilliant.  (For 3rd grade and higher.)

How Big Is a Foot? (Rise and Shine)Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last SundayThe Greedy Triangle (Scholastic Bookshelf)Three Pigs, One Wolf, Seven Magic Shapes (level 3) (Scholastic Reader, Math)The Quiltmaker's GiftThe Doorbell RangJim and the BeanstalkOne Hundred Hungry AntsThe Wolf's Chicken StewSir Cumference and the First Round Table


You’ll love the other posts in this Living Literature Top 10 Series.  If you’re interested in living math, be sure to also check out my Living Math Matters Series full of practical living math lessons!

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  1. I just love your site and all the lists you provide for those of us who are still starting out and getting our bearings. I just love lists in general, so I am very thankful that you put all this together. 🙂 We have read one book from your list, about the ants. I am taking this list to my library and we’ll see if they can order them for us through ILL if they don’t have them.

  2. I know this post is old, but I was hoping you would still get it. How do you feel about “Life of Fred” as a living math option?

  3. Hi Amanda,
    I’ve never personally used Life of Fred, but I have several Charlotte Mason friends who love it. Most of them use it as a supplement rather than the main curriculum, but some use it as a stand-alone. Sorry I don’t have a better answer for you.

  4. I love the Sir Cumference Series. And Pat Hutchens’ books. You might be interested in the Warlord Series by Virginia Walton Pilegard. The stories are set in Ancient China and are about tangrams, clocks, abacus, etc.
    Bethany from mathgeekmama.com has printables (some for free) that correlate to both the Warlord and Sir Cumference series.

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