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Starting from a young age, children can explore deep mathematical questions and enjoy thinking about basic math within the context of a story. There are some real treasures out there.

Parents often think of math as addition and multiplication facts - dry stuff. But it is so much more, even at a basic level.

If you're thinking of books for teens or adults, post them as answers for this parallel question.

With your answer, please explain what makes this book appealing and what its math content is.

What are some great books for inspiring children to explore mathematics?

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    $\begingroup$ For me, the description of the tesseract in a "A wrinkle in time" was an early exposure to mathematics imagination. Made a big impact on me. $\endgroup$ – Steven Gubkin Mar 16 '14 at 0:50
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    $\begingroup$ Not a book recommendation but an awareness issue with children's books on mathematics. Dr. Walter Whitely gave a keynote address at a math "Changing the Culture" conference at SFU in Vancouver. He pointed out how Australian educators had come to the realization that publishers had made all triangles in all their books equilateral or isosceles with their point up. This led to students missing the key factors of what made a triangle. As we review books and their impact, keep in mind what misconceptions might also be forming. The good news on the Australian front was that publishers when informed $\endgroup$ – HarMath Mar 17 '14 at 5:20
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    $\begingroup$ I'd like to second @StevenGubkin's recommendation. Also, I'd like to suggest Walter's Mirror Puzzle Book mentioned in my answer here: matheducators.stackexchange.com/a/843/262 $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Dickman Jun 25 '14 at 2:57

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I am a very big fan of The Number Devil written by a famous German author (normally known for his books about history or politics). The subtitle in the original German version is "Ein Kopfkissenbuch für alle, die Angst vor der Mathematik haben." (=A pillow book for all fearing mathematic.")

It's a (nicele illustrated) story about a boy having fear of mathematics in general and fear of his math teacher. He dreams every night of the so-called number devil who will teach the boy the beauty of math.

The very special thing about the book is the fact that mathematical terms are not called how we would call it, but with special colorful words (e.g., the number devil explains the boy why multiplication is important and how it is derived from addition. Then, the number devil does an analogy of it to introduce factorial - But the book calls it "Wumm!". So the boy is teached to perform e.g. "6 Wumm!". Taking roots are called taking rutabaga, etc.). One can discuss if this is good or bad, but at least this doesn't sound like mathematics known to students in that age and is maybe motivating students to have interest in mathematics. (There is also a table at the end of the book translating the new terms to known terms for us. This table can also be helpful to students who might say: "Okay, I understood the concepts of the book...Wait... This rutabaga thing was the complicated root thing our teacher explained a few weeks ago?")

More or less, every night (I think, there are about 10?) is one "lecture". The mathematical content is about mathematics teached to students in the age of 10-14 maybe (depends on countries, etc.), but also has some hints to college related questions: Firstly, the book introduces basic operations like factorial, roots, etc and also numbers systems like natural numbers, rational numbers, etc. (and even a small adventure to complex numbers). Then the book deals a lot with pascal's triangle, Fibonacci numbers and related content. At the end, there is small journey into more advances subjects like topology, the traveling salesman problem, etc.

I hightly recommend the reading of the books - even (or in particular!) for adults.

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I have about twenty kids' books listed at the books page on my blog, Math Mama Writes.

If I had to narrow it down, my absolute favorite is probably The Cat in Numberland, by Ivar Ekeland, a five-chapter picture book dealing with the story of the Hotel Infinity (with Mr. and Mrs. Hilbert running the hotel, of course). The confused cat is charming, Ekeland's retelling of the Hotel Infinity story is delightful and thought-provoking, and the ideas can easily be extended. (If all the negative numbers showed up, how would the Hotel Infinity deal with them?)

Other favorites:

  • How Hungry Are You? by Donna Jo Napoli, on equal sharing, among more and more animal friends who are going on a picnic together. The little icons for who is talking make me want to do this as a play.
  • Powers of Ten, by Philip and Phylis Morrison, with a photo and a descriptive page for each power of ten (for size/distance). The youtube video may be more dramatic than the book, but it's a great book to keep out on the coffee table.
  • Moebius Noodles, by Yelena McManaman and Maria Droujkova, for exploring symmetry, functions, grids, and numbers, will help parents expand their notions of what math is. [Disclaimer: Maria Droujkova will be publishing my book.]
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    $\begingroup$ I saw Powers of Ten in a science museum as a kid and I have been searching for it ever since! Thank you! $\endgroup$ – DavidButlerUofA Nov 5 '14 at 3:17
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You Can Count on Monsters, by Richard Evan Schwartz, creatively illustrates prime factorizations for the first 100 numbers. Some of my godchildren are very into it. Though I think most of the math content is going over their head at this point, they are into counting the dots, and they're into the idea that numbers have personalities.

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Logicomix is a Greek graphical novel about the quest for Foundations of Mathematics in the 20th century, from Hilbert's problems at the 1900 conference in Paris to Gödel's incompleteness theorem, using the barber paradox as an illustration.

Basically, it is narrated by Bertrand Russell and the whole book is fascinating. It covers a span of sixty years from Russell's own childhood desire to prove everything to Gödel's result that shocked the mathematical world and all mathematics-related material is covered with a didactic purpose.

It was written by Apostolos Doxiadis and the CS researcher Christos Papadimitriou and translated into many languages.

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The Number Devil is a favorite of mine. It has so much interesting math in it and is written in a visually appealing way.

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In addition to your excellent list on your own site, I would add:

The Grapes of Math by Greg Tang and illustrated by Harry Briggs

Each page has a picture puzzle described in rhyme, where the goal is to count how many of something there is (in particular on one page you are counting grapes). However the focus on each page is that if you look at it the right way you don't have to count them all individually. On one page you can count by fives, on another you can notice it's a square but with a couple missing. It's so cool that with just simple counting you can introduce problem-solving.

Math Curse by John Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith

Describes the journey of a girl who wakes up one morning with a Math Curse, where everything she sees becomes a maths problem. I like it because it is precisely how my mathematical mind works -- everything is a maths problem! But it also gently pokes fun at the strange way that maths problems in school are written, which children can notice for themselves. Also, it has a good message that you an solve problems if you think about them in the right way.

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My favorite has to be The Greedy Triangle, the story of a triangle that's unsatisfied with its appearance and decides to add another side. I won't spoil the story for you, but you can imagine what happens when it gets too many sides - a nice preview of Calculus and limits. Plus, how many children's books end up in Shape-Fiction and Self-Acceptance-Fiction as the Library of Congress Subject Headings? :-)

http://www.amazon.com/The-Greedy-Triangle-Scholastic-Bookshelf/dp/0545042208

Also, sort of a meta-answer to this question: The NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) and NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) collaborated on a nice book on linking literature and mathematics for kids that not only gives tons of recommended books, but goes over criteria for selecting a good book and gives suggestions for how to use them in the classroom: http://www.amazon.com/New-Visions-Linking-Literature-Mathematics/dp/0814133487

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I really enjoy Introductory Calculus for Infants. It is an abc book for young readers. It has very little rigorous content and some weird areas (one joke requires you to pronounce $ln$ as 'lawn'), but it has a lot of the interesting symbols and graphs that got me into math in the first place. Every page has a function and a graph corresponding to a letter. The X page has $f=\pm|x|$, for instance.

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These suggestions are more from experience during vacations back from my childhood.

  1. Mathematics can be fun by Yakov Perelman
  2. Puzzles to puzzle you by Shakuntala Devi
  3. Sherlock Holmes puzzle collection
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Chaos

Flatland

Men of Mathematics

Anything by Martin Gardner, but especially his columns in IASFM (not sure if ever collected).

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