Number Crunch: Non-fiction for Math Lovers (and others)

Mixed-Up Files Reader, Michael M. comments:

I’m sure you’ve noted a heightened emphasis in the new Common Core Standards on NF and longer texts beyond articles. It’s particularly challenging, as much of the available NF is not expository pieces with the charts and tables that the CCS requires.  If you have any “go-to” people, that would be huge. Thanks for a great blog and a wonderful resource!

Michael, thanks for the comment and the compliment of our little piece of the blogdom. While I wouldn’t consider myself a “go-to” person, I’m interested in the same topic as a writer, school-based occupational therapist and general research geek. It’s a good thing since I can see from my calendar, it’s a topic I’ll be hearing a lot more about in upcoming professional development meetings. There will be lots of other people trying to figure out the practical implications of the standards and the best resources to implement them. Publisher’s Weekly had a great article about that very subject.

For this post, I searched for non-fiction books about math that included the graphs and charts you referenced in your question. For my needs, I also looked for high interest subject matter that had practical real life applications. I wanted books that did not look like textbooks in any way and were easy to access. I was able to find all of these books at my public library.

For our Mixed-Up fiction lovers (and as a nod to my previous post about book twins), I also included a few examples of fiction that reference math concepts. Hopefully MUF readers will add to the list in the comments below. Don’t worry, Michael, we’ve heard your plea and will include more non-fiction book lists and references in the future.

Tiger Math by Ann Whitehead Nagada; Cindy Bickel
Children learn to graph as they follow the growth of an orphaned Siberian tiger cub.

A Siberian tiger cub born at the Denver Zoo is orphaned when he is just a few weeks old. At first T. J. refuses to eat his new food, and it requires the full attention of the zoo staff to ensure that he grows into a huge, beautiful, and very healthy tiger.

Through photographs, narrative, and graphs, young readers follow T.J. as he grows from a tiny newborn into a five-hundred-pound adult. A heartwarming story about one tiger’s fight for survival that also introduces a basic math skill. (descriptions and cover photos from Indiebound unless otherwise noted.)

Joanne’s comments:  This is part of a series that includes books by the same authors including Panda Math, Chimp Math and Polar Bear Math. The right side pages follow the story of the animals. The left side pages include the math concepts such as charting growth patterns, figuring out how much food the animal needs, the feeding schedule etc.  The math concepts in the series include time, division,  graphing and fractions.

Growing Money by Gail Karlitz
Never before has there been a time when the economy has been so much a part of our daily lives. Today’s young investors want to know the basics of finance, especially how to make money grow. This complete guide explains in kid-friendly terms all about savings accounts, bonds, stocks, and even mutual funds!

Joanne’s comments: Money is motivating for most kids and this book is a great resource with lots of interesting information and facts.  Charts and tables are sprinkled throughout including comparing the cost of everyday items in the past to current prices and demonstrating the effect of interest on savings.


The Big Push: How Popular Culture is Always Selling by Erika Wittekind

Buyer beware! Why do you really buy what you buy? Did you see a commercial for a cool mountain bike? Did your favorite celebrity wear a fantastic pair of shoes on the red carpet? Learn how products are advertised using all types of media. And be aware of popular cultures influence on consumers including you! (description from Amazon.com)

Joanne’s comments: I am  veering a bit off topic here, but I found this book when I was looking at books about money. I thought it was fresh, relevant and was something that many kids could relate to. The charts and graphs were not plentiful but were interesting. The book was targeted toward the tween age group. Being a smart consumer is another aspect of managing one’s money and is definitely a needed life skill, so I believe it meets my criteria for this list.

Basketball: The Math of the Game by Thomas Kristian Adamson

How far is it from the three point line to the basket? What is the difference in diameter between a basketball and the rim? How do you calculate a basketball players field goal percentage? With every bounce of the ball and swish of the net, math makes its way to the court! (description from Amazon.com)

Joanne’s comments: This book is part of a Sports Illustrated for Kids series including other books featuring baseball, hockey and football.  I read Football: The Math of the Game by Shane Frederick and was pleasantly surprised at the level of difficulty of the math–definitely upper middle grade math including pre-algebra, mean, median, mode and range and calculating momentum. It has the familiar glossy magazine format with lots of photos, but there is a solid amount of text, tons of graphs and math problems based on real football situations.  Another example is the  Sports Math Series by Ian Mahaney including contains graphs and math application with a solid amount of text but targeting the younger middle-grade reader.

For Fiction Lovers: Don’t forget to check out Wendy S.’s post Show Me the Money for great fiction ideas. I also like The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies and Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen. 


All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall is another  fiction choice from my To-Be-Read Pile.

Based on a true story, All of the Above is the delightful and suspenseful story of four inner city students and their quest to build the world’s largest tetrahedron. Weaving together the different personal stories of the kids, their teacher, and the community that surrounds them, award-winning author Shelley Pearsall has written a vividly engaging story about the math, life and good-tasting barbecue. Filled with unexpected humor, poignant characters and quiet brilliance, All of the Above is a surprising gem.

MUF readers, please help Michael and add your favorite math-themed non-fiction or fiction in the comments. What non-fiction book lists or topics would you like to see us tackle in future posts?

Joanne Prushing Johnson spent her school years fighting a solid case of math anxiety. She found that practical applications helped take the anxiety out of math,  put the purpose into the process and made math more fun (okay–that’s an exaggeration). She still prefers words to numbers, but loves to hide math and science concepts in her fiction–just to prove her twelfth grade calculus teacher wrong. 

5 Responses to Number Crunch: Non-fiction for Math Lovers (and others)

  1. http://new-to-teaching.blogspot.com/p/good-math-texts.html is a site that is for upper middle school and high school level math texts, fiction and non-fiction.

  2. Any upper-middle-grade math-related fiction to recommend? I’ve got Abundance of Katherines on the list, though that might be a year or two too old for my son at the moment.

    joanneprushingjohnson Reply:

    @Genevieve, thanks for you post. Hopefully other readers will add to the discussion. I thought Lawn Boy read more upper MG to me and it’s part of a series. There are a lot of options when looking at books about money. I’m interested to see what other readers are finding in other math-themed fiction.

  3. Oh, lots of good ones.
    Fiction – Pennies for elephants by Lita Judge
    Lucky beans by Becky Birtha
    Babymouse: dragonslayer by Jennifer Holms
    Mathematickles! by Betsy Franco
    The number devil by Hans Magnus Enzensberger
    An abundance of Katherines by John Green

    Nonfiction – too many to list but I’m really loving Growing Patterns by Sarah Campbell and Swirl by Swirl by Joyce Sidman

    joanneprushingjohnson Reply:

    @Tammy Flanders, thanks for you post and recommendations to add to my TBR pile. Are any of these more upper MG as Genevieve is requesting? If so, could you pop into her thread and let her know. Thanks for your great suggestions.