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Best Children's Books to Teach Place Value and Base Ten

Using children's literature to enhance the understanding of place value and base ten in your math lessons.

Books that teach place value.

Books that teach place value.

I recently co-presented at a math workshop for teachers. In the workshop, teachers were to create a lesson that centered around the ideas of place value. It really amazed me that so many teachers had such misconceptions about our base ten numeric system. A deep understanding of place value is greatly tied to almost all that is done in mathematics so it is critical to have a good understanding of place value. So how can we make place value easier for kids (and adults) to understand? One way is to use children's literature.

A Place for Zero

Poor zero. He wants so badly to be able to play Addemup with the other digits but he does not see how his number of zero fits in. After all, he thinks, zero is nothing. So he tries to work with Count Infinity to see if he can find his place. Eventually he sets out on a journey to visit King Multiplus and Queen Addeline. He was curious about multiplication and if that might help him to find his place.

One of the things that I like about A Place for Zero by Angeline Sparagna LoPresti is the vocabulary. Not only does it talk about numbers as digits but it also mentions infinity, factors, products, and binomials.

Books on Place Value

Millions and Millions

Picturing a million of anything is really difficult for children. There are two fantastic books that help children bring this number to reality. The first is A Million Dots by Andrew Clements. In this story, the author starts out with one dot and continues to add dots as he goes along. All the way through, he chooses a number of dots on that page and then provides real life illustrations of what that number would look like. For example at dot number 24,901 he states that this is the distance around the Earth at the equator.

The second story is How Much is a Million by David Schwartz. Similar to A Million Dots, Schwartz gives real life examples of what each number would look like. The difference is that he continues on to talk about a billion. A billion goldfish would need a fish bowl as big as a stadium to hold all of them. Developing a sense of large numbers is the focus in this particular story.

Sir Cumference and All the King's Tens

Understanding how numbers move in value from one place to the other is foundational for all other mathematical operations. Sir Cumference and All the King's Tens helps students to visualize the value of each digit in the place value chart. Visitors to the Royal Palace are grouped by tens and then by hundreds and ultimately by thousands. The illustrations and storyline help students to create a picture of how grouping numbers by ten easily lends itself to counting large numbers and combining them in other mathematical operations.

Two of Everything

Two of Everything by Lily Toy Hong is a Chinese folktale. When a pot appears in the garden the Haktaks, they are curious about how they will use it. They soon discover that anything that is placed in the pot is doubled. Of course there is a little bit of trouble that ensues but all is resolved in the end. It is a fantastic way to help students begin thinking about how numbers double.

One Grain of Rice

In One Grain of Rice, the Raja demanded that all the people in the village give him most of their rice harvest each year. He claimed that he would store it so that in a time of need, they would be able to use the stored rice. When the famine hit, the Raja refused to open the storage of rice and share it with the people. After performing a good deed that was acknowledged by the king, the girl, Rani, devised a plan to get rice to the people of the village. As her reward, she asked the Raja for just one grain of rice that day, but that he would then double the amount from the previous day for the next 30 days. The Raja thought this was a silly request because what would she do with just one grain of rice. He soon learned the power of exponential numbers just as your students will after reading this story.

Using base ten blocks are a nice way to help students understand the concept of place value.

Using base ten blocks are a nice way to help students understand the concept of place value.

Example of Data Table for Students to Complete

You would create the table with enough places for students to fill out the grains of rice for the 30 days. Have the first four days already filled in for them.

Day Number of grains of rice 






Using the Books

There are many ways that you can use these books to help students to clarify their thinking around place value. Depending on the age of children that you are working with and the standards that you are working on will determine which books are the best for your lesson or unit.

Here are some very general ways that you can use these stories to enhance your instruction.

  • Read One Grain of Rice as a springboard to exploring exponents. Read only up to the part where the Emperor gives the doubled rice on the fourth day (8 grains) and record the pattern that is being created. Have students make a prediction about how many grains of rice there will be at the end of 30 days. Then allow students to work in groups to find the answer.
  • Use one of the million books to help students visualize large numbers. Then have students bring in 100 of some sort of snack food (raisins, cheerios, pretzels, etc.) and then combine them in a bowl. As you eat the snack, talk about how many students brought in 100 treats and how many there are all together in the bowl. Although this will not create a million, it will help students to concretely see larger numbers.
  • A Place for Zero can be used for a small group of students who are having difficulty understanding how zero fits into our number system. It can also be used as an introduction to a unit on number sense. Present students with two numbers, 27 and 207. Simply ask them if they are the same number, why or why not? This will prompt a discussion about how zero is not nothing but has a very valuable place in our number system. After all, would you rather have $27 or $207?
  • When you are teaching addition of the same number or introducing mulitiplication, Two of Everything is a great way to have students begin to combine numbers to see how many they will have in the end. You can have students draw number models, use counters, or draw pictures of things like 2 apples and another 2 apples is how many? Use larger numbers for older students.
  • Base ten blocks are a great addition to the story Sir Cumference and All the King's Tens. After reading the story, you can have students simply build numbers using base ten blocks. More advanced students can build arrays to show various muliplication facts and students could even look at a number a determine how many tens are in the number. For example 34,456 has 3445 (3445.6 for more advanced students) tens in it. How many tens are in the hundreds place in that number? 45 (or 45.6). How many tens are in the thousands place? 445 (or 445.6)

These activities are just a small sample of ideas about how to use these books when teaching place value. You are sure to come up with some fantastic ideas of your own. Just remember that literature is important in math and bringing it into your math lessons will help students understand difficult concepts a little easier.


gengar45 on September 12, 2020:

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Diana on October 13, 2016:

This is such a great resource for the primary development of base ten understanding. I'm also currently a student teacher and to find resources that can be so instrumental in the foundations of math is a great help. I'm not too great with the math part of teaching - for the sole reason that I don't feel comfortable in my knowledge about it. With resources that uses characters and plot lines to develop awareness about where zero fits in and "Sir Cumference and all the King's Tens" I can confidently develop teaching strategies that are based on the skill sets children will need to grasp before moving on in math and in their day-to-day lives.

janice-anne on October 10, 2016:

Thanks for the great hub! I am currently a student teacher and found your post very informative and inspirational. It reflects a view of education that is flexible and innovative, highlighting the importance of cross-curricular teaching. A classmate and I used your sample lesson plan for ‘One grain of Rice’ as an outline for a mathematics activity presentation to our fellow classmates relating to number sense and had a lot of fun both creating and presenting. We found that there are so many engaging learning extensions with this book. For example, using the story and data to make graphs & tables as well as cross-curricular connections with art (drawing, painting) and English Language Arts (writing how they think the story will end). Thanks so much for sharing!

Katie on September 16, 2012:

you have errors in your author names in this article...

cardelean (author) from Michigan on September 07, 2012:

Thanks so much for your visit and share Mary. I hope that it the list helps out many who struggle with these concepts. :)

cardelean (author) from Michigan on September 07, 2012:

Thanks Janine. I love incorporating literature in my teaching of all subject areas. There are so many great titles out there to use and it really helps kids begin to have a better grasp on many of these concepts.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on August 29, 2012:

Very interesting Hub. You did a wonderful job here sharing the best children's books.

I voted this Hub UP, and will share.

Janine Huldie from New York, New York on August 29, 2012:

Cara, I loved this one and I am more a middle school math teacher, but with my older one starting pre-school in a few short days, I am pinning this one to refer to as she grows and needs some good math reads. Seriously great list here and have voted up, shared and tweeted too!!

cardelean (author) from Michigan on May 19, 2012:

Thank you Pinkchic18! Glad you enjoyed it.

Sarah Carlsley from Minnesota on May 18, 2012:

Very nice hub! Very neat to read!

cardelean (author) from Michigan on December 03, 2011:

Me too JimmieWriter! They are such a great teaching tool. I'm glad that I was able to introduce you to some new ones.

Jimmie Quick from Memphis, TN USA on December 02, 2011:

I love living math books! Great collection. There are several here that I've never heard of and a few that we have read.

cardelean (author) from Michigan on October 06, 2011:

I agree Barsbitsnpieces, keeping it simple is key. I hated math growing up but have developed a new love for it in the last five years. Most of my students enter the room hating math and leave LOVING it. The math workshop approach that I use is a huge motivator for students. Thanks for the compliments and interest in reading my hubs.

Barbara Anne Helberg from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA on October 05, 2011:

@cardelean...These are really clever ideas that keep it simple for kids, the best way to approach their education. Math is one of our American schools' worst enemies, it seems, where kids wanting to learn is concerned.

Congratulations on your helpful creativity, and your Hub awards!

cardelean (author) from Michigan on August 29, 2011:

That's fantastic Sandyjunep that you have such a strong enjoyment with math and passed that along to your children. What a great way to use everyday resources to help your kids to learn! Unfortunately in teaching I find that not all kids have this same feeling about math. My goal is to change that by the time that they leave my classroom! Thanks for reading and commenting and welcome to Hubpages!

Sandyjunep from Australia on August 29, 2011:

I must say I really enjoy maths and so happy the calculator was not used when I went to school. I find I can get the answer just at a glance, measurements can be done at a glance, not always accurate, but very close. When shopping I have the total before reaching the counter and it is not hard work, i enjoy it and it just happens. My kids are the same. I started teaching them with pegs hanging out the washing, buttons, fruit, cutting up pieces etc, . It was all fun, but my girls soon learnt the importance maths played in our lifes.

cardelean (author) from Michigan on July 06, 2011:

I bet he would, they are fun and educational! :)

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on July 06, 2011:

Oh! Oh! I remember One Grain of Rice! I loved that book! Now I'm tempted to check out these other ones too... perhaps my nephew would like them!

cardelean (author) from Michigan on July 06, 2011:

Thanks for the tip Kathleen. I'll keep that in mind when the time comes!

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on July 06, 2011:

Thanks for the very informative hub.

When your own children's books are ready, you might consider publishing them on Kindle as e-books. Kindle has revolutionized self-publishing - letting the marketplace choose what they want to read. Good luck!

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on July 05, 2011:

LOL Yes, he was always great for a long, dragged out lecture/er...explanation!

cardelean (author) from Michigan on July 05, 2011:

No I don't remember the penny jar. I do remember Grandpa's LONG explanations about things that I still didn't get when he was done. :)

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on July 05, 2011:

Cara-great hub. I love the explanation you gave on each book. Poor zero, LOL. Wish they were available for me when I was learning these skills-I just had your grampa thumping the back of my head when I didn't get it...oh, yes, also the penny jar! Remember that?

cardelean (author) from Michigan on July 05, 2011:

What a great dad! I love hearing that people give books to their kids for Christmas. My kids always get books too but I'm a book addict. :) So glad that you found it useful, thanks for reading and commenting.

Christopher Wanamaker from Arizona on July 05, 2011:

Wow this is great! I know what I'm getting my son for Christmas. Bookmarking, thanks.

cardelean (author) from Michigan on July 05, 2011:

RJ I'm glad that you found the hub easy to read and laid out well. I try to make my hubs user friendly! Glad to know that you are now among my followers. Thanks for the kind comments.

You are very welcome Robin. I try to find things to write about that are useful to parents and teachers and can make teachers' jobs just a little easier! Thanks for your feedback, I appreciate it.

cardelean (author) from Michigan on July 05, 2011:

RTalloni, your grandkids will love them. They are not only helpful but entertaining as well. Thanks for commenting.

Oh Rose I think that many of us can relate to your comment. I wish that my teachers had used literature to help me understand math because it was always an area in which I struggled. Thanks for reading!

Glad you found the list useful Kristen. I hope that your students will enjoy them, I know mine do. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Robin Edmondson from San Francisco on July 05, 2011:

What a wonderful resource for teachers and parents. I have the Sir Cumference book, but will have to check out the others from the library. Thanks!

Reynold Jay from Saginaw, Michigan on July 05, 2011:

From a former Special ed teacher... these look terrific!Welcome to HUB writing. I enjoyed this very much. You have this laid out beautifully and it is easy to understand. Keep up the great HUBS. I must give this an “Up ONE and Useful.” I'm now your fan! RJ

KristenGrace from Philadelphia, PA on July 05, 2011:

Awesome! This is a wonderful resource for teachers, and I'm sure so many out there, (including myself!) will be referencing this again in the future. Thanks for sharing.

Maree Michael Martin from Northwest Washington on an Island on July 05, 2011:

Wow, I needed these books when I was growing up, this will make math so much easier, Thanks!

RTalloni on July 05, 2011:

Thanks so much for posting this. I'm always on the look out for helpful books for my grandchildren. Love, love your closing sentence! Bookmarked, and voted up/useful.

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