3 Musts when Writing a Picture Book about Math

Lia & Luis: Who Has More?
Seven Golden Rings: A Tale of Music and Math

Recently I read two of the picture books that won the 2021 Mathical Prize. I posted about the prize here. The books were the Pre-Kindergarten winner, Lia & Luis: Who Has More? by Ana Crespo (Charlesbridge) and the Grades 3 – 5 winner, Seven Golden Rings: A Tale of Music and Math by Rajani LaRocca (Lee and Low Books). My reading helped me see that picture books can teach math but the author needs to remember these three things.

Story

These aren’t just books about bath, these are books about characters young readers will be attracted to. Lia, quiet and thoughful, and impulsive Luis are debating who has more when it comes to their favorite snacks. In the course of the story, it becomes obvious that it all depends on how the quantity is measured. Seven Golden Rings is about Bhagat, a thoughful young man who wants to help his mother and who also loves music. His story shows how being a “thinker” can solve seemingly impossible problems when you look at them from every angle instead of just giving up. The story pulls the reader in even as it teaches about math.

Age and Ability

When teaching young readers about math, the writer needs to consider the age and ability of the audience. Preschoolers are learning about less and more and how to measure. Older gradeschoolers are ready to tackle sets and even base.

Where do you find out who is studying what? Math is part of the Common Core. Click here to find standards broken down by grade and by domain (geometry, measurement and more). Matching the skill with learners of the right age will help your manuscript appeal not only to the reader but also to publishers. And looking over the standards may well lead to ideas!

Author’s Note

Sometimes you will want to include more information than can easily fit into the story. Make use of an author’s note or other back matter. In Lia and Luis, the back matter includes a glossary of Brazilian terms as well as notes for parents or other adults who want to help their young readers learn about math. In Seven Golden Rings, the author goes into a detailed discussion of place and base, explaining the difference between our base ten (how we count) and base 2 or binary (computer coding).

I have to admit that Rajani LaRocca won me over with this discussion of base. It shows me that the does not write down to young readers. My father taught base to his electrical students and he tested out his lessons on me. Okay, I was 12 or so but when you tell an 18 year-old that a 12 year-old could do it? The whinging stops and the learning begins.

Take a look at that Common Core breakdown. See if it doesn’t inspired a story or ten.

–SueBE