Math for Preschoolers – 13 Books for Toddlers and Little Kids

As I mentioned on my Mosaic Tile Toy Giveaway post, shape games are a great way to teach math to preschoolers.  We also count things, play with manipulatives like little bears and buttons and blocks, learn numerals with a dot system (you can see our “number wall” in the picture above), and talk about measurements when we cook, but most of all we read books.  Reading, as you’ve probably noticed, is a big part of our day.  As with all books for children, my criteria in selecting books that teach math concepts are that the book be well written, have interesting illustrations, and teach in a way that is organic to a good story, rather than simply beating the child over the head with a concept.  That last one is hard to achieve with number books, so I am sort of flexible with that as long as the book isn’t egregiously preachy.  Here are thirteen of our favorite books that teach math concepts:

Tasha Tudor’s gorgeous counting rhyme 1 Is One ranks among the most beautiful books we own. I love her illustrations of nature and children and the elegantly rhymed text.  There is so much detail in this book that children can sit for a long time finding things in the pictures, which gives you even more opportunity to count things, as well as exposing them to different art techniques and details of nature.  1 is One is a Caldecott Honor Book and deservedly so.  This book is suitable for even very small children, and the numerals and spelled number names also make it helpful for older preschoolers.  This book will certainly be a favorite for years to come at our house!

Ezra Jack Keats’ illustrated edition of the old rhyme Over in the Meadow is another excellent book worthy of classification as a counting book and a nature study book. Although the illustrations are very different from Tasha Tudor’s in the book above, Keats’ fantastic use of paper cut outs and interesting patterns and textures makes this volume stand out far above other versions of the same text.  It’s really fascinating to see how he constructed each picture, and you could doubtless do an art project based on the illustrations if you were so inclined.  As a counting book, the rhyme is simple and involves animal mothers with their variously numbered babies, which you can count as you read.

One Was Johnny: A Counting Book is an inventive and entertaining story of a little boy who lives by himself (and likes it like that) and how all sorts of bizarre things happen to overpopulate his little house and then are convinced to leave in funny ways.  Maurice Sendak does great illustrations, and there are all sorts of things to count and notice as you read this interesting tale.  Apart from being a good story, the book is one that counts up from one to ten, and then down from ten to one, which is another good skill to learn.

One of the books we like for introducing the concept of telling time is Clocks and More Clocks by Pat Hutchins. The illustrations have great detail and oddly shaped pencil drawings colored with 1970s style harvest gold and avocado green that makes me feel pleasantly nostalgic for my own childhood (although I was born on the very tail end of that decade, we did have an avocado green washer and dryer set for the next 20 years or so – they don’t make ‘em like they used to!).  The story follows one Mr. Higgins who owns a splendid clock but doesn’t know if the time is correct.  He buys another clock to compare it to, but in a series of misunderstandings and buying more and more clocks, Mr. Higgins gets thoroughly confused and finally calls in a Clockmaker who solves the mystery.  Clocks are clearly featured on every page and it’s easy to help kids see what time each one says.  For kids who are too small to tell time, the story will still be engaging and laying a good foundation of understanding for later.

Eric Carle’s story of The Grouchy Ladybug is another good book for telling time. In the story, a very grouch ladybug goes about picking fights at different times, always with a clock featured so you can see the day progressing.  You’re probably familiar with Carle’s neat illustrations from other books in his catalog, and the pictures in The Grouchy Ladybug are great like the rest.  We did have to spend some time talking about how it’s not good to be grouchy or pick fights when we first started reading this book, but that’s educational too!

At the beginning of Tea for Me, Tea for You, one pig goes to a restaurant to have tea alone, but the snooty waiter is aghast and as he counts more and more friends showing up to join the first pig. The waiter seems dreadfully put upon and aggrieved by all the extra work until the pig patrons decide to order one of everything on the menu and invite the waiter to join them.  I will say that some of the rhymes in this book are a little forced, but the concept is good and the kids like counting the pigs.  As an added bonus, you get to think about all sorts of lovely things to order with tea and see that having tea is not strictly an activity for little girls as is sometimes thought in this country.

We adore the How Do Dinosaurs series because the books are fun and the illustrations are great and they are about dinosaurs, so I was surprised to note that How Do Dinosaurs Count to Ten? is not available individually anymore except in Spanish.  The link in this review is to a small set of the books, still very affordably priced and you get several of the titles together.  At any rate, the book is a good counting book with simple text.  We have ours in board book form and that makes it suitable even for babies in the grabby phase.  Because the illustrations are detailed and about dinosaurs, older kids will like this book too.

We like to read 10 Fat Turkeys along with our Thanksgiving books, but aside from the turkey subject matter it’s not really about Thanksgiving, so you could enjoy reading about the silly turkeys gobble-gobbling, wibble-wobbling and doing the noodle dance all year ’round if you like. This book counts down from ten to one, which is a nice feature, since most counting books count up.  The illustrations are not tremendously artistic, but they are colorful and fun and sufficiently engaging for my taste.

Five Little Monkeys is a familiar counting rhyme about the monkey children jumping on the bed and falling off and bumping their heads. If you’ve never thought about it before, the rhyme actually teaches the concept of subtraction fairly effectively, and is quite entertaining at the same time.  I will say as a word of warning that one time when Hannah was re-enacting this book during her nap time she really did fall off and bump her head and had to be taken to the emergency room to make sure she didn’t need stitches, so you might want to emphasize that it’s NOT a good idea to jump on the bed in real life!

One Lonely Sea Horse is a very interesting counting book in which the illustrations are all made of fruits and vegetables meant to look like sea creatures. I know, it’s sort of an odd concept, but it really works and will give you a TON to look at and talk about in addition to counting and learning numerals.

I grew up with Richard Scarry books so naturally I collected a few for my children. Richard Scarry’s Little Counting Book is vaguely story-driven, but gives good chances to count, learn numerals and spelled numbers, talk about addition and subtraction and colors and all sorts of things like that. For purposes of full disclosure I should tell you that Lowly Worm is inexplicably missing from this volume, so if Lowly is the draw for you with Richard Scarry books, you may be disappointed.  Otherwise I think you’ll enjoy the book!

Titch is a book of comparisons – little, bigger, biggest and so forth – which is a key concept in math. Titch is the littlest in his family, and his big sister Mary and oldest brother Pete have bigger bikes and bigger instruments and bigger jobs.  But then Titch gets to hold the tiny seed when they are gardening, and Titch’s seed grows to be very large.  Titch is a good simple story on a number of levels, from being understanding about younger siblings and older siblings, to learning about size comparisons, to remembering that sometimes the smallest things turn out to be the biggest.

Go, Dog. Go! is another great comparison book, and it includes a lot more types of comparisons than just size. Go, Dog. Go! compares size, color, speed, over and under, time of day and a host of other things.  These concepts are presented in a fun way, with colorful illustrations and frequent interludes with dogs discussing hats.  The book is by P.D. Eastman, who also wrote Are You My Mother?, another of our favorites.

Now that you’ve read about some of our favorites, what are your favorite kids books that talk about math concepts?

(This post is linked on Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word and also at What My Child is Reading at Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns – pop over there to see more great books for kids!)

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13 Responses to Math for Preschoolers – 13 Books for Toddlers and Little Kids

  1. This is a great post, Catherine! I’ve never seen that Tasha Tudor book—we NEED it! :-)

  2. Tara says:

    Great list! I read your post and immediately flipped over to our local library’s website and put a couple of your suggestions on hold. Thanks!

  3. I just wanted to come back and say I’m glad you linked up to Read Aloud Thursday!

    We went to the library this afternoon, and 1 is One is actually in their catalog. However, I couldn’t find it on the shelf. I’ll keep searching!

  4. Paula says:

    I love Go Dog Go! The copy I read to my children is the one that belonged to my sister and me when we were little. One of our favourite counting books is “Hippos go Beserk” by Sandra Boynton, a rather amusing rhyming tale that counts groups of hippos arriving at and departing from a party. Another favourite is “The bear with sticky paws” by Clara Vulliamy. Not strictly a counting book, it does have several pages where you count the various foods the bear eats. It is an amusing story and the illustrations are delightful. Of course, we love ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ too, but who doesn’t!

  5. Natalie says:

    Thanks for joining WMCIR, Catherine. I love posts about math and books about math. We also use a lot of them in our house, and I use pretty much the same principles while looking for good living math books. We read about half on your list, and I am going to add some of your choices to my reading plans.

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  8. Kathy says:

    Thanks so much for the recommendations. My 2 year old granddaughter loves The Very Hungry Caterpillar and can now read it to me. Also, she likes anything about Clifford and there is a book called Don’t Wake The Puppies, which is a counting book. But I am really looking forward to getting and using your list of books……..we needed some new ideas.

  9. Elinda Raines says:

    I love Go Dog Go I read this book as a little girl .And i also read this book to my kids who now read this to there kids.

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