a list of…five, count ’em, five proofs that math can be fun (and I’m not even kidding!)

This Plus That:  Life’s Little Equations, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Jen Corace

Introducing an extremely clever book that imagines what happens when you put two and two together.  We all know what happens when you put red and blue together, for instance:  purple happens.

But, try this one:  What does wishes + frosting equal?  Answer:  birthday.  Or this one:  somersaults + somersaults + somersaults = ?  Answer:  dizzy.

There are dozens of delightful equations here, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing colorful ingredients from popsicles to ocean waves, cozy feelings to eye rolling insincerity, each with an ingenuous result.  These equations are not only a treat to read, they also stimulate more clever, original possibilities.  You could say: this book + eager listeners = sparks of imagination!

Jen Corace has illustrated this crazy new math in charming, cheerful, energetic scenes, using a palette of gorgeous natural greens, golds, bittersweets and the occasional burst of pink.  All of these vignettes pop on the bright white backgrounds with the equations spelled out in friendly black type.  The page lay-outs are genius. 

New in 2011, this book gets two thumbs up from my household, and I bet it will please people from 5-100.

Just a Second: A Different Way to Look at Time, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins

In the time it takes you to snap your fingers, a whole lot can happen.  Did you know for example, that in one second, a bumblebee beats its wings 200 times!? Or — and this is very scary — a black mamba slithers 24 feet!!?!

A minute can feel long when you’re waiting on a green light, or very short when you’re racing to the train platform.  What takes place in a minute?  A skydiver in a free fall plunges two miles. (No thank you.) A child’s heart beats about 100 times, while a hamster’s ticks about 450 wee beats.

Time is a fascinating concept, and the information presented in this book will blow open the doors of your mind as you consider its possibilities. The many amazing fact-bits about what takes place in a second, a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year…are incredibly rich mind-food to pore over.  Steve Jenkins is a brilliant author/artist whose angles of looking at the world around us inspire amazement, and whose bold, intricate, paper collages are simply stunning.

Interesting, very-brief, explanations about the inventions of our time units are included, as well as clever graphic charts displaying various life spans, human population growth, and a timeline for the universe.  Great “can you believe it?!” book for ages 8 and up; perfect for reluctant readers.

Blockhead: The Life of Finonacci, by Joseph D’Agnese, illustrated by John O’Brien

Long ago, in the Italian city of Pisa, a mathematician lived whom we call Leonardo Fibonacci.  He was…brilliant.

Fibonacci fell in love with numbers and patterns early in life.  He counted everything, solved math problems at lightning speed, observed numerical patterns in nature, invented story problems — and received, in return…ridicule.

When he grew up, Fibonacci traveled the known world, learning from each culture their particular mathematical insights, including a strange new system of writing numerals used by Arab merchants, which they, in turn, had picked up from the Hindu people of India.  Struck by the advantages of this number system, Fibonacci urged his peers to adopt it, and received, again…ridicule.  Along the way, Fibonacci invented a story problem involving the multiplication of rabbits, whose solution led to the discovery of a numerical sequence, repeatedly found in nature.  The Fibonacci sequence, as it is now known, can be found everywhere from the pearly spirals of a seashell to the unfathomable sweep of a galaxy.

This fabulous biography of Fibonacci leads us to appreciate the man called a blockhead by his neighbors, and introduces us to the idea that math is built into the world around us, from nature, to architecture, to music.  John O’Brien’s watercolor-and-ink illustrations ingenuously incorporate the spirals and geometric shapes Fibonacci loved, in gem-toned, vibrant, clever pictures.  An Author’s Note and a list of ways to explore Fibonacci numbers in the book’s illustrations and in some common items around you, complete the book.  Great read for early elementary and up.

How Much is a Million? by David M. Schwartz, pictures by Steven Kellogg

Marvelosissimo the Mathematical Magician is here to help you comprehend how big those really-really big numbers are!  If a million kids climbed onto one another’s shoulders, how high would that tower be?  (Hint:  Really really high.)  Or, if you wanted to count to a million, how long would it take?  Take a look in this book, and  you will find out.  A bowl big enough for a million goldfish?  A book holding a million teeny-tiny stars?  You will be flabbergasted to discover just how much a million is!

If a million isn’t big enough for you, try a billion…and a trillion.  A trillion kids in a tower, a trillion stars lined up on pages.  The jumps between these numbers are…astronomical!

Numbers beyond comprehension are compared and explored by Schwartz in this book with jammed with friendliness, and short on words.  The brilliant Steven Kellogg has animated and illustrated this wizardry with his characteristically comfy, happy, cartoon-style drawings.  He pours gallons of life and energy into each colorful scene.  A lengthy, intriguing note from the author explains, for older readers, how he calculated each of his facts.  The main story can be enjoyed by kindergartners and up.  Written in 1985, this has become a classic.

Perfect Square, by Michael Hall

Start with a square.  Four equal sides.  Four right angles.  Perfect.  And happy.

What happens, though, when that geometrical perfection is cut up, torn, shredded, or crinkled?

Not to worry!  Those scraps and pieces can be rearranged to form many delightful objects, from babbling fountains to handsome arched bridges.

This simple story line from an award-winning graphic designer, vibrantly, magically, brilliantly, transforms one perfect square into seven clever images — one for each day of the week.  Each day, the square is a different, gloriously bright hue, a textured combination of goldenrod yellows, first-leaves-of-the-spring greens, Caribbean-sea blues, which is torn and trimmed into pieces on one page, then, with a turn of the page, reassembled into a satisfying new image.

It’s a highly imaginative, artistic book that will entrance preschoolers, and entice them to produce their own torn-paper artwork for the fridge.  Lovely.

Here are Amazon links for these books you can count on to stretch your minds and imaginations:

This Plus That: Life’s Little Equations

Just a Second

Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci

How Much Is a Million?

Perfect Square