One of the most classic images of the Halloween season is a witch’s magic pot or cauldron. Singing about witches’ brew and reading tales of magical pots can also be a great way to introduce math concepts… as long as you find the right book!
Here are three of our favorite magic cauldron tales that could be introduced during the Halloween season (or any time) to spark discussion around important math ideas such as doubling, capacity, and measurement.
Two of Everything by Lily Toy Hong
There aren’t any witches in this story, but there is certainly an interesting magic pot. This Chinese folktale tells the story of Mr. Haktak and the miraculous brass pot he finds in the ground. Mr. and Mrs. Haktak think they have found a goldmine when they discover that anything put into the pot comes out with a second, a double. For this couple it seems like a great way to get rich, but when Mr. Haktak falls into the pot himself, they quickly find that things can get messy when you double the wrong things.
The tale is whimsical and lighthearted and could easily be translated into describing two witches in a similar situation, adding to your list of good Halloween books for kids to ring in the season. And further discussing ways in which doubling can happen in the real world can become a fun and worthwhile exploration of math concepts. It isn’t always one object making two when you decide to throw a set of keys or a pair of shoes in the pot.
The Magic Porridge Pot by Paul Galdone
This amusing story starts off much like Jack and the Beanstalk, with a girl looking for food for her poor family when she is approached by an old woman. She is given a pot that can provide never-ending porridge. With the magic words, the girl thinks she has found the solution to her problems.
The real problem comes with keeping track of the magic words, which is what results in an overflow of porridge in her poor town. The math opportunity with this story comes with the concept of capacity, volume, and measurement. The pot never changes size, nor the amount of porridge that it can hold. It is the volume of porridge (and the limited capacity of the pot) that makes this a big problem for the girl. Having a clear problem and exploring the math involved with it makes this a fun and interesting book for kids.
Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
The timeless tale of Strega Nona is based on the same traditional folktale as The Magic Porridge Pot. But this one involves a real witch! This time it is “Big Anthony” who has some issues with a magical pot. And it isn’t porridge, it is pasta. This book offers the same possibilities in connecting the story to concepts of volume and measurement, but activities that include actual pasta noodles could give a tactile and real-world dimension to the story.