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Favorite Books for Learning Multiplication and Division
I love using literature throughout the year in my math class—the students are consistently engaged, and books regularly spark many rich discussions. Typically, multiplication and division are introduced starting in third grade, and literature can help illustrate and elucidate the new topics. And, as you move up in grade level, books help to reinforce study. Below you’ll find some of my favorite books for learning multiplication and division ranging from third to sixth grade level.
Amanda Bean’s Amazing Dream: A Mathematical Story
by Cindy Neuschwander
Amanda Bean loves to count things, all the time, but is unsure how multiplication will speed up the process. A dream overwhelms her counting abilities, and when she wakes up she is convinced that she wants to learn how to multiply. Multiple pictures in the book include arrays (cookies at a bakery, plants in a park), and children can compare the time it takes them to count all of the objects in these arrays with the time it takes to multiply. Children can also use these arrays to discuss different ways to count each array. In addition, the context of the story supports discussing what things come in twos, threes, fours, etc. as a gateway to the concept of multiplication. In third grade, we use this book to introduce multiplication to the students each year.
Two of Everything
by Lily Toy Hong
Mr. and Mrs. Haktuk are poor farmers. One day, Mr. Haktuk digs up an ancient brass pot in his garden. Mr. and Mrs. Haktuk discover that the pot doubles anything that they put inside of it, whether it is a single item or a group of items. This is a good book for when the children are just starting multiplication since it focuses only on doubling, and the twos facts are what we start with in third grade.
Snowmen at Night
by Caralyn Buehner
This fun story imagines what snowmen do each night while we are asleep, with ideas like snowball fights, sledding, and making snow angels. The rhyming scheme and illustrations make for a fun, lighthearted book. Since snowmen are often made with three large spheres of snow, we ask the students how many spheres we would need if we wanted to make 2, 3, 4, etc. snowmen. We have the kids each design their own snowman and then come up with number sentences for multiple snowmen. For example, if they use two pieces of coal for the eyes and they needed to make seven snowmen, they would write 7 x 2 = 14 pieces of coal. It’s an easy way to meet the kids where they are since we can make this as simple or as complicated as they can handle.
One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale
An Indian village is going through a rice famine, but the greedy raja will not share his collection of rice with the villagers. Rani, a clever young girl in the village, is rewarded one day for a good deed. The raja offers her whatever she wants, and so she asks for just one grain of rice, doubled every day for 30 days. The story shows how her reward of rice quickly grows with each passing day. Children can make predictions about the amount of rice that she will have at the end of the month, and can then mark on their own calendars the number of grains of rice Rani received on each day as the story goes on. Students can then add them all up to get the total. There is a calendar in the back of the book with each day’s total, as well as the overall total for children to check their answers. Children can find the answers either by doubling through addition, or by multiplying by two, but either way it involves some large numbers, so it offers a great challenge problem for children this age.
If You Hopped Like a Frog
by D.M. Schwartz
This fun book can offer both a challenge and also meet the kids where they are. Throughout the book, different scenarios are presented, showing what it would be like if you could hop like a frog, eat like a shrew, or flick your tongue like a chameleon. Mathematical and scientific explanations follow each scenario. Children can use the facts presented to calculate what they themselves could do, using extended multiplication facts. For example, they learn that if they could hop like a frog, then they could jump twenty times their body length. But, we can use the book to keep things simple as well, focusing on the number of legs on each animal presented in the book, and creating multiplication facts with that. For example, if you find 4 fleas on the family dog, how many flea legs would that be (4 x 6 = 24 legs).
One Hundred Hungry Ants
by Elinor J. Pinczes
Rhyming text describes a line of 100 ants traveling to reach a picnic. They start in one long line of 100, but to get there faster one ant suggests dividing into two lines of fifty, then four lines of twenty-five, then five lines of twenty, and finally ten lines of ten. The changes in their formation take them so long, though, that the food is gone by the time they arrive. The ants are shown in total and in their new formation on each page. This is another good way to talk about arrays, but in terms of division, as well as the concept of factors. Grouping can also be discussed based on this book. We have the children come up with another number and find how many ways the ants could organize themselves in that case.
by Matthew McElligott
Two bugs, Flora and Ralph, have thirteen beans between them and try to devise a way to divide them evenly. But no matter how they divide them, they still have bean thirteen left over. They even invite others over to try to divide the beans evenly, but still have the one left over. This story is a good way to introduce the concept of remainders in division, as well as discussion of prime numbers and what that means in terms of division.
The Great Divide: A Mathematical Marathon
by Dayle Ann Dodds
In this story of a cross-country race called “The Great Divide”, the field of competitors is continually being divided by two. Eighty competitors (in ten groups of eight) begin the event on bicycles, but only half of them ford a rocky red canyon to continue on. The group continues to be reduced in the same way as the race goes on. Dodds uses both rhyming and pictures to show the effects of the obstacles along the race route. Regrouping also occurs as the number of participants dwindles, and both the numerals and the number words are shown throughout the story.
I hope you find this list of books helpful with your own child, both as they are introduced to multiplication and division, and later on when they can use more of a challenge. There are so many different ways to think about multiplication and division and different contexts in which it can be presented. Once your child has a solid understanding of multiplication and division, perhaps they could even try their hand at coming up with a story of their own that involves multiplication or division.
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