My background is in secondary, but I have spent the majority of the past two years in elementary. This blog hasn’t always reflected that shift. This year, I plan to blog more about my experiences teaching math in K-7.

Often, I use picture books to launch math lessons. Picture books allow teachers to leverage literature-based methodologies. The plan is to make this a series of posts.

I classify math picture books into three categories:

- mathematics is explained
- mathematics is weaved into the storyline
- mathematics is hidden

Books in the first category are, by and large, horrible. The reader is told that learning a particular mathematical concept is important and this concept is explained. Sometimes, art imitates life and a teacher-like character explains a topic to student-like characters. That’s just cheating.

There are some great picture books in the second category. In these books, math (not the characters’ learning about math) is central to the story. For example, in Bean Thirteen by Matthew McElligott, divisibility is introduced when the characters don’t want to get stuck with the unlucky thirteenth bean. In If a Chicken Stayed for Supper by Carrie Weston,* *part-part-whole relationships are explored when each fox counts the others and concludes someone is missing. Often, these books provide more questions than answers.

Books in the third category are the most difficult (and most rewarding– think #anyqs) to find. In these books, the author did not set out to write a math book. You won’t find these books in the math section of your local independent bookstore. But the math is there if the reader looks at the story through a mathematical lens. (More on this later.)

This week’s math picture book is Cats’ Night Out by Caroline Stutson. I’d place it in the second category. It’s a counting book and that might stretch your idea of ‘storyline’. (That’s fine.) Counting by twos from two to twenty, each page is illustrated with cats dancing in the city. Here are the pages for eighteen:

How did you see 18? I first saw 9 on each page (5 and 3 and 1). Students could draw their own pictures of doubles on folded paper. Also, on the two pages there are 9 white cats and 9 black cats. Kids will find two 9s in other places. There are 9 cats with bows and 9 cats without. Doubles can also be seen in rows across the pages. For example, double 5 can be seen across the bottom row. The use of doubles is a strategy for mastering addition (and multiplication) facts.

These 10 cats can be seen in another way. There are 6 white cats and 4 black cats across the bottom row. Students could be asked to find ways of making a different number of cats or different pages could be copied and students could look for different part-part-whole relationships. This, too, helps students master addition facts. For example, 9 + 3 can be thought of as 9 and 1 makes 10 and 2 more is 12; 6 + 7 can be thought of as double 6 makes 12 and 1 more is 13.

My love of card stock and the laminator has been well-documented. For teachers wanting to use pictures of these cats, here you go: Cats’ Night Out Cats (Large) & Cats’ Night Out Cats (Medium)

I completely agree with you (a lot) and I can’t wait to see examples of books in your #3 category. I found some math in some (mostly) non-math picture books this summer (http://mathinyourfeet.blogspot.com/2012/07/math-is-everywhere-storybook-edition.html). And, speaking of cats, here’s http://mathinyourfeet.blogspot.com/2012/02/math-books-for-cats.html where at least two books are in your second “category” (I think) and one is not. 🙂

Thanks Malke. I see Five Creatures in your cat post (hah!). We’ve used this book to explore part-part-whole relationships:

Five creatures live in our house.

Three humans, and two cats.

Three short, and two tall.

Four grownups, and one child (that’s me!).

Also, sticking with the cat theme, there’s Six-Dinner Sid and Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons.

As for the three cat-egories, I’m still thinking about that. The line can be fuzzy. I’m not convinced they are that helpful. My goal in presenting them was to encourage teachers to bring (1) a critical eye to ‘math books’ and (2) a mathematical eye to ‘non-math books’. We may find more mathematical richness and opportunities to talk math in the new arrivals/bestsellers section than we will in math section.