Series: Early Math Lists

4 Books That Inspire Algebraic Thinking in Young Children

Algebra Books

When someone says something like algebra begins in pre-kindergarten (or before), immediately others may begin to question their sanity. But the foundations of algebraic thinking do begin with core concepts that take shape early, such as comparing and ordering objects or patterns and the rules they are governed by.

One of the best ways to delve into these concepts is through the books that are read to children each and every day. Below are some suggestions of books that may inspire you to explore algebraic thinking with your children.

  1. Rooster’s Off to See the World by Eric Carle

    This “Carle classic” tells the story of a rooster who is slowly joined by two cats, three frogs, four turtles, and so on. As the groups of different types of animals come along for the journey, and eventually leave, it sets up a world of opportunities to delve into number operations and patterns.

  2. The Napping House by Audrey Wood

    The growing pattern in this fun and wildly illustrative story book can bring out some math moments you never thought would happen with younger children. You might find our Focus on the Lesson video Who is Napping? particularly interesting.

  3. Is It Red? Is It Yellow? Is It Blue? by Tana Hoban

    A lesser-known book that is both simple and without an actual story to tell, this concept picture book allows children to explore colors, shapes, sizes, and most importantly, relationships. It is another wordless book that encourages an examination of relationships that words themselves often aren’t best in doing with very young children.

  4. I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly by Mary Ann Hoberman

    When an old lady swallows a fly, a problem slowly builds. It is a charmingly silly tale that children get a kick out of. Although it can often result in a simple lesson about not eating just anything, the telling of this folk tale can result in an exploration of a cumulative or growing pattern.

Star icon for Common Core Alignment

Common Core Alignment

Operations and Algebraic Thinking More

Foundational Math Concepts

Source: Erikson Institute • Copyright: Erikson Institute • Content ID: Not specified

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  1. Comment icon
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    Courtney West

    September 5, 2016 at 6:55pm

    The author of the book below was inspired to write it after reading Dr. Keith Devlin’s “The Math Gene.” His book explains why numbers are like gossip. Princess Sasha Rescues a Frog: Fun Algebra is so effective at teaching children (ages 4 to 8) basic Algebra because of the way it enables children to utilize fun and engaging facts from the Main story to solve Algebra equations in the Pre-story puzzle and in the After-story Algebra trick.

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    Karen Nemeth

    February 2, 2017 at 11:20am

    I fight against the use of books like There Was an old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly or Chicka Chicka Boom Boom because their content is confusing and meaningless for children who are dual language learners. The IDEA of the sequence in the Old Lady book seems good, but there’s no real meaning to swallowing a fly and a spider and a horse and whatever else. I hope we can find books that support meaningful math concepts that have enough intrinsic meaning to support children from diverse language backgrounds.

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    Jeanine Brownell

    February 2, 2017 at 1:40pm

    Karen,
    Thank you for raising the important consideration of children who are English Learners. And, I agree that the tale of the old lady who swallowed a fly is rather silly and improbable. Yet, it has staying power perhaps for that very reason! The sequence of animals follows a growing pattern; the animals increase in size each time. Picture cards, felt figures, or puppets can make these size relationships visual and more accessible to all learners.

    Many cumulative tales lend themselves to having children physically act them out (though I wouldn’t recommend trying it with this tale!) . “I Went Walking” by Sue Williams would be a good one to try. Children can gain a kinesthetic experience of adding one more each time.

    Keep connecting books and math!

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    Marsha Ashley

    March 16, 2017 at 3:12pm

    I love the book Hippos Go Beserk by Sandra Boynton. Not only does it count up as more and more hippos come in groups to join in the fun but it also counts down as they leave the party in groups. In the end throne lonely hippo misses the other 44

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    DeEtte Kauffman

    April 23, 2017 at 12:18am

    All the Tana Hoban books touch on so many good math concepts, but there are other good patterning books in addition to the ones listed here. Eric Carle’s Hungry Caterpillar explores counting patterns and Ten Apples Up On Top is an all time classic. It is exciting to see that algebraic thinking can begin at such young ages. I’m amazed by what CCSS asks of my kindergartners, but even more amazed when they actually solve the problems.

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