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The Enduring Magic of Picture Books in Middle School Math

Believe it or not picture books are a great way to get your students excited about math. Use these tips and book recommendations to bring the magic of picture books to your middle school math classroom.

Ever notice that awesome moment when you whip out picture books in a room full of middle schoolers? Suddenly, it’s like a switch flips. Eyes light up, backs straighten, and the energy levels skyrocket. It’s a kind of timeless magic that proves one thing – you’re never too old for the charm of a picture book. Even picture books in middle school math classrooms!

In my time as a middle school teacher, I have witnessed firsthand what happens when you mix storytelling with math. Sure, we’re tackling some seriously complex concepts, but nothing beats the spell a good picture book can cast. The announcement of a read-aloud has students leaning in, eyes wide, ready for the math adventure about to go down.

Let’s embark on this journey together, flipping through the pages of picture books that don’t just tell stories but unleash full-on mathematical escapades. In this blog post, we’re digging into some amazing picture books that turn math into approachable tales that help our young mathematicians grasp concepts.

Why Reading Picture Books in Middle School Math is Helpful

I’m excited to spill the beans on why picture books in middle school math can be a valuable tool. You’ve got a bunch of pre-teens, and you’re about to hit them with some math wisdom. Cue eye rolls and sighs, right? Bring out a picture book, and watch the game change. Here’s why these story-packed wonders are legit lifesavers for our middle school math enthusiasts.

1. Making the Math Less “Meh” and More “Yeah!” with Math Picture Books in Middle School

Middle school is this funky time when math goes from being all about cookies and simple shapes to some abstract, head-scratching stuff.

Use picture books in our math class to help students make sense of those complex and abstract math concepts they are learning.

Picture books help turn those abstract concepts into tales that make sense.

Suddenly, your learners are not just figuring out pi. They’re on a quest with Sir Cumference battling dragons.

It’s math with a side of adventure that has our young learners engaged.

2. Turning Boring into “Tell Me More!” with Math Picture Books in Middle School

Math time. . . Cue the collective groans. But toss in a picture book, and suddenly, you’ve got a roomful of kids on the edge of their seats.

Instead of worksheets, use picture books to help students make connections in your math class.

The vibrant pictures and stories make learning feel less like a chore and more like a journey. Math isn’t just a bunch of problems but can be interwoven into a story.

3. Making Math Feel Like a VIP Club with Math Picture Books in Middle School

Middle school is this wild ride of trying to figure out who you are and where you fit in.

Picture books turn the math classroom into a VIP club where everyone’s invited. The stories bring joy and excitement, making math a comfortable spot to hang.

The stories help ease the anxious minds and ignite the bored minds giving them all a seat at the same table for learning math concepts.

4. Turning “Ugh, Math” into “Hmm, Let Me Think” with Math Picture Books in Middle School

Picture books are the secret to making kids think.

Riddles, predictions, character decisions, you name it. These stories throw in all kinds of brain teasers.

Use picture books in your middle school math class to get your students excited about thinking creatively to solve puzzles and problems.

It’s not just about getting the right answer but about thinking beyond the numbers.

Math becomes this puzzle to solve, and our middle schoolers are all in while flexing those critical thinking muscles.

Picture books break down walls, make learning a blast, and turn a potentially “meh” math day into a “heck yeah” adventure.

10 Amazing Picture Books to Use in Middle School Math

Now that I’ve given the lowdown on why picture books in middle school math are essential, let’s get to the good stuff! I’ve handpicked 10 picture books, each armed with its unique brand of math magic. From dragon-fueled pi adventures to the exponential wisdom of rice grains, these books aren’t just stories—they’re gateways to different math topics.

Now, get ready to flip through pages filled with dragons, riddles, and unexpected math adventures. Let the countdown begin as we explore each book’s special math concept and plot!

Picture Book #1 – Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi by Cindy Neuschwander

Sir Cumference, the math hero of this picture book, is on a mission to rescue his wife, Lady Di, from the clutches of the Dragon of Pi.

Sir ir Cumference is a fantastic picture book to introduce your students to creative stories which also include fun math thinking.

As our brave knight embarks on this daring quest, he introduces our students to the mystical concept of pi in the most unexpected and entertaining way possible. But wait, I’m not talking about your everyday pie. I’m talking about that quirky mathematical constant with an infinite number of digits after the decimal point.

In the midst of the dragon showdown and rescue mission, Sir Cumference cleverly weaves in lessons about circles and the elusive pi. Suddenly, what could have been a routine math class transforms into an unforgettable adventure.

Will he save Lady Di from the Dragon of Pi? There’s only one way to find out. Dive into the pages of this clever and unforgettable math adventure!

Application: Ideal for introducing pi concepts, initiating discussions on circles, or celebrating Pi Day.

Picture Book #2 One Grain of Rice by Demi

We’re diving into a picture book where a super-smart heroine takes on a greedy raja, and trust me, it’s an exponential rollercoaster you don’t want to miss!

Our heroine, savvy as can be, starts with a simple request. Just one grain of rice. Sounds harmless, right? Then she asks the raja to double it every single day. Now, this raja might be greedy, but he’s not exactly a math whiz.

As the days roll on, that one grain of rice turns into an insane amount, thanks to the magic of doubling. This leads to a lesson in exponential growth that even the greediest raja can’t escape.

This story isn’t just about outsmarting a raja but also a sneak peek into the incredible power of exponential growth. It’s the kind of math that starts small and suddenly explodes into something mind-blowing. Who knew one grain of rice could teach us so much about the magic of numbers?

Will our clever heroine outsmart the raja with her exponential genius?

Application: Perfect for exploring exponential expressions and understanding the impact of doubling, making it a great addition to discussions on growth patterns.

Picture Book #3 Grapes of Math by Greg Tang

Get ready for a brain workout because Grapes of Math is bringing a truckload of math riddles and problems to the table! This book isn’t your typical snooze-fest. It’s a wild ride through a maze of mathematical ideas that’ll have your students scratching their heads and cheering when they crack the code.

Each page is packed with riddles that cover everything from basic arithmetic to more complex concepts.

Whether your students are into numbers, puzzles, or just the thrill of cracking a tricky problem, Grapes of Math has something for everyone.

Application: Use the riddles as brain teasers or challenges to reinforce different math concepts. They can also be used as a math warm-up to get those brains thinking analytically.

Picture Book #4 The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns

Gather ’round for a tale that’ll have you seeing triangles and polygons in a whole new light!

Our protagonist, a bored triangle, decides to spice things up a bit. Tired of the same old angles, it goes on a shape-shifting spree, transforming into various polygons just for the thrill of it.

Now, I’m not just talking about your regular polygons here. You’ll be diving into the world of hexagons, pentagons, and more.

It’s proof that learning about shapes doesn’t have to be all protractors and rulers but can be an imaginative journey.

Application: Perfect for starting discussions on polygons, angles, and geometric transformations.

Picture Book #5 Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

Get ready for a hilarious ride through the wacky world of Math Curse! Have you ever woken up and felt like everything in your life suddenly transformed into a math problem? Well, our protagonist knows exactly how you feel.

In this tale, a student wakes up to discover that life has taken a mathematical turn. From brushing teeth to catching the bus, everything becomes a quirky math problem.

This picture book explores the real-life applications of math in the most unexpected places. Suddenly, math isn’t just about textbooks and quizzes but decoding the chaotic and comical scenarios of daily life.

As you follow our student through this math-infused adventure, you’ll find yourself chuckling at the relatable situations and nodding along because, let’s be honest, we’ve all been there. Math Curse is the book that proves math isn’t just a subject but an essential part of the everyday chaos we call life.

Application: Kick off a unit on real-life math applications, encouraging students to see math in their everyday lives.

Picture Book #6 Bean Thirteen by Matthew McElligott

Brace yourselves for a delightful story that’s all about beans, chaos, and a sprinkle of multiplication and division!

A group of animals gather together, and there are exactly 13 beans to share. Sounds simple, right? But hold on to your calculators because when you throw beans into the mix, chaos is guaranteed. Suddenly, those innocent legumes become the center of attention!

Your students will be diving into the world of multiplication and division in the most fun and relatable way possible.

Bean Thirteen is a clever exploration of math that sneakily weaves in multiplication and division lessons.

Application: Spark discussions on equal groups, arrays, and the relationship between multiplication and division.

Picture Book #7 How Much is a Million? by David M. Schwartz

Get ready to embark on a journey that’ll take you and your students deep into the realm of big numbers and unravel the mystery of “How Much is a Million?” This picture book is an exploration that helps students wrap their minds around the sheer enormity of a million in the most imaginative ways.

The story unfolds as it introduces readers to the concept of a million by breaking it down into relatable scenarios. From imagining a tower of a million blocks reaching the sky to picturing a goldfish bowl with a million goldfish. Whether it’s counting a million pennies or envisioning a forest with a million trees, each scenario is crafted to help students grasp the enormity of large numbers in a relatable way. The book paints vivid pictures that make abstract numbers come alive.

“What does a million look like?” is the central question, and the book answers it with creativity and flair.

Application: Use it to introduce place value, help students grasp the magnitude of large numbers, and explore the concept of a million in a tangible way.

Picture Book #8 If You Hopped Like a Frog by David M. Schwartz

Hop on a journey of measurement and estimation with If You Hopped Like a Frog. This picture book compares the incredible abilities of humans to those of some of the coolest creatures on the planet.

The book kicks off by posing intriguing questions. What if you could jump like a kangaroo or run like a cheetah? This is an invitation to explore the world of measurement using the incredible abilities of animals as a benchmark.

As you and your students flip through the pages, you’ll find yourself comparing your own abilities to those of various animals. From measuring how high you could jump to estimating the speed of a hummingbird, each page has a unique opportunity to dive into the world of measurement in a fun and relatable way.

It’s an exploration that encourages readers to think creatively, make comparisons, and discover the fascinating ways in which animals navigate the challenges of their environments.

Application: Introduce measurement concepts and guide discussions on comparing and estimating, using animal comparisons as a starting point.

Picture Book #9 The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins

This picture book bakes a heartwarming story that’s all about sharing and division. It’s a mathematical journey that unfolds as two children grapple with the delightful challenge of fairly dividing their treats as more friends come knocking.

It all starts with a fresh batch of cookies. The two children are all set to indulge in their sweet bounty when, suddenly, the doorbell rings. Enter more friends, and the challenge begins. The dilemma? How to fairly share the cookies among the growing group of hungry visitors.

As the story unfolds, the author weaves in math concepts of division and sharing. Each time the doorbell rings, the children must recalculate and divide the cookies anew. It’s not just a lesson in fractions but also a heartwarming narrative that explores the challenges and joys of dividing treats among friends.

Application: Explore division concepts, fair sharing, and fractions through this charming story of sharing and problem-solving.

Picture Book #10 Spaghetti and Meatballs for All! by Marilyn Burns

Pasta pals and geometry gurus, brace yourselves for a hilarious tale that’s all about area and spatial arrangements. This isn’t your ordinary family reunion. It’s a geometric feast that unfolds as a family attempts to organize seating arrangements with side-splitting results.

The story kicks off with the excitement of a family reunion, and what’s a reunion without a hearty meal?

The family decides to gather around tables for a feast of spaghetti and meatballs. Sounds simple, right? Wrong!

The chaos ensues as the family members shuffle around, rearranging tables and chairs in an attempt to make everyone comfortable.

As you and your students follow the antics of the family, you’ll witness the exploration of the math concept of area. The author weaves in the challenges of spatial arrangements, turning the seemingly straightforward task of organizing seating into a comical adventure.

The story brilliantly incorporates ideas of area and spatial reasoning as the family grapples with fitting tables, adjusting chairs, and accommodating the ever-growing guest list.

Application: Use it to introduce or reinforce the concept of area, perimeter, and spatial reasoning in a fun and relatable context.

Math Picture Books are Full of Adventures!

So, there you have it. Your ticket to turning math class into the highlight of your students’ day! Picture books are more than just teaching tools. They’re the key to unlocking a world of math wonder in your middle school classroom. By weaving these captivating tales into your curriculum, you’re not just teaching numbers and equations but crafting a memorable experience.

Your students will excitedly recall the dragon of Pi or the exponential journey of rice grains. That’s the power of turning math into an experience. It’s not just about starting a new unit or celebrating Pi Day. It’s about transforming every day into an opportunity to learn, explore, and, most importantly, enjoy learning math.

Dive into these pages with your middle schoolers. Watch as their eyes light up, their curiosity peaks, and the math chatter heightens.

More Unique Ways to Engage Your Middle School Math Students

Is engagement a struggle? Check out these blog posts filled with fun and unique ideas for engaging your middle school math students.

Save These Picture Books to Use in Middle School Math Class

Remember to save this post to your favorite math Pinterest board for when you need picture books for your next lesson!


Welcome to Cognitive Cardio Math! I’m Ellie, a wife, mom, grandma, and dog ‘mom,’ and I’ve spent just about my whole life in school! With nearly 30 years in education, I’ve taught:

  • All subject areas in 4th and 5th grades
  • Math, ELA, and science in 6th grade (middle school)

I’ve been creating resources for teachers since 2012 and have worked in the elearning industry for about five years as well!

If you’re looking for ideas and resources to help you teach math (and a little ELA), I can help you out!



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