Living books for maths

Living books for maths

Following an excellent and time proven method of maths instruction such as Singapore maths is like following the highway. You know where you’re going and it’s the most straightforward way of getting where you need to go.

I like the convenience and reassurance of following a good maths program but sometimes I, and my kids, enjoyed the benefits of a bit of off-road adventure. Getting off the beaten track of regimented maths lessons lets you exercise and develop skills that may not get exercised as much as you need (or will enjoy as much). There’s nothing quite like a bit of bush-bashing maths with living books!

Not only do living books for maths allow you to connect maths with real life situations, they also combine subject areas linking maths with history, language arts, science and more.

There are many maths books on the market, but these are some we enjoyed and that worked for us. And the best thing? It didn’t feel like maths!

Sir Cumference series

A picture book for primary aged children using wordplay, puns and problem solving, this series covers maths concepts in a fun and engaging way for kids. Concepts covered include geometry, place value, mapping, fractions and more.

If you don’t want to stop at just the stories, there is also an activity book to go with them.

We used these books when studying the Middle Ages to incorporate some maths.

What’s your angle, Pythagoras?

Written in a similar vein to the Sir Cumference books, this one is all about right-angle triangles.

It’s a perfect addition to your Ancient Greece studies and a good way to introduce younger kids to angles and geometry.

Julie Ellis has also written another book, Pythagoras and the Ratios.

Math Detective

This series of three books is workbook style and covers three levels: Beginning (Grades 3-4), Math Detective A1 (Grades 5-6) and Math Detective B1 (Grades 7-8). You might want to get them all (we did) and take them away with you if you are wanting to keep up skills while travelling (we did).

You can also buy these as Math Detective A1 Software Grd 5-6.

Our children loved these books and they most often used them independently.

Exploring the World of Mathematics

I used this book with one of my children who was slowing down with maths, to try and cement abstract ideas into everyday usage of maths. It’s much more than a maths book, tracing the history of maths principles and theory adding a lot of interest. It covers multiple grade levels, increasing in difficulty as you go through it.

I love it for its readability and making maths more meaningful. Written from a Christian view.

Life of Fred Series

Life of Fred is an excellent supplement to any maths program. Maths is taught in story form, following the life and adventures of Fred. The books are funny and kids want to read them over again.

Life of Fred was published towards the latter end of our homeschooling journey, so I didn’t use these with my kids. However, we did sell them and so I was able to look through them quite a bit. I wished I’d used them, that’s all I can say. We generally had good feedback from customers. Some home educators use this as their main maths program, though I wouldn’t recommend that approach. As a supplement, it is pretty good though.

String, Straightedge, and Shadow The Story of Geometry

Using only three tools: string, a straight edge and shadow, this is the story of geometry from earliest times. This book is available with this cover new or secondhand at Amazon. A newer, revised version with UK and European notation, language and metric systems is also now available.

We used this in our Ancient History studies. Nice illustrations.

Carry On, Mr Bowditch

One of our favourite books, this biography is the story of Nathaniel Bowditch, a gifted and self-taught mathematician who made amazing advances in sea navigation. This is not just a story about maths, but about a man of character, whose determination and diligence helped shape history. Nat’s story will stay with you for a long time.

Progeny Press has a literature guide to help you get the most from this book.


The Toothpaste Millionaire

A book about business, economics and of course maths. 

Rufus, a sixth-grader, succeeds in business without really trying when he develops and markets his own toothpaste. Outraged at the cost of the toothpaste, he invents his own and sells it at a fraction of the cost of other brands. The book is about how he markets and sells his toothpaste and how he expands his business with help from some of his friends.

Concepts include startup capital, profit margin and other business maths.

Looking for more living books for homeschool? Check out these:


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Singapore maths and homeschool curriculum