Teaching Subtraction
with children's books

Teaching subtraction with children's books is not only a lot of fun, but it is also a great way to help children see some kid-friendly real world applications of subtraction... and add in a little reading too!  Helping kids to find the difference between two numbers is only part of the task. Often, the harder part is helping kids turn a real world situation into a subtraction equation.

Great children's books do this in spades ...and entertain too!  And subtraction picture books helps ensure lessons are well differentiated for the learning styles in your classroom. It's amazing to witness a child struggle and struggle with subtraction, and then suddenly 'get' it because of a few well-told stories. Just proves that kids do really learn best through stories.

We hope you enjoy this list and find books that will help you in your subtraction lesson plans. The list below of math books for kids includes links to buy the books on Amazon.  Or, to save 50% or more on math children's books, check out our list of SALE math books.  Our books are a great deal! All are used but are in great condition, some are even like new.

Best Books for Teaching Subtraction
with links to buy on Amazon

1.  Monster Musical Chairs 
A MathStart series book by Stuart Murphy; illustrated by Scott Nash

Monster Musical Chairs subtraction picture book

(Preschool - Grade 1) Monster Musical Chairs is an adorable Math Start picture book that's aimed at teaching simple subtraction. Bouncy rhymes and adorable monsters keep the mood light and fun. Kids love it!In the story, some cute partying monsters play the well-known party game 'musical chairs'. With each round, one monster is out and it's face is crossed off the list on the right (making the minus -1 aspect more visual).

If you do use this fun book for teaching simple subtraction, we suggest you move slowly and point out subtraction problems at the end of each round. Otherwise the fun game aspect of the storyline could completely override the math lesson. :)

Here's a spread from inside this book. This first sample spread depicts the start of the musical chairs game. As you can see, all six monsters are participating and all six monsters are depicted in the box on the right. 

2.  If You Were a Minus Sign 
a Math Fun series book by Trisha Shaskin; illustrated by Francesca Carabelli

If You Were a Minus Sign subtraction storybook

(1st grade - 3rd grade)   This adorable book features kid-friendly illustrations and bouncy, clear explanations about what a minus sign is and how it works. Spreads have examples of subtraction problems in text, pictures, and number equations. Like all books in the Math Fun series (and it's partner Word Fun series as well), the last page includes additional questions to deepen the learning.

We know it can be hard to read the text on our small pictures here, so you can click to enlarge them.  Or, here's the text of the second spread: "If you were a minus sign, you would be a symbol used to show subtraction. You would be part of a subtraction problem. / Starry-eyes Stella's daisy has nine petals. Stella plucks eight petals from it. Stella's daisy has one petal left." And then the number equation shows 9-8=1.

3.  Ten Sly Piranhas 
A Counting Story in Reverse by William Wise; illustrated by Victoria Chess

Ten Sly Piranhas subtraction story

(Preschool - 1st Grade)  Ten Sly Piranhas is such a fun book and great for teaching subtraction!  In the story, a school of (cute) piranhas slowly outmaneuver and eat each other, one by one, until the last little piranha is himself eaten by a crocodile, and "then there were none."

This 'eaten one at a time' format makes for a fun and effective early subtraction (minus 1, since it's 10-1, 9-1...).  And the fact that the piranhas are EATING the creatures made the kids understand that subtraction makes things 'go away'.  :)  School Library Journal said "The lilting cadence of the anticipatory story makes it fun to read and hear." We agree!!!  We are NON singers, but I promise...you'll want to literally sing it to your class! :)

Below is a sample page from inside this book. This page occurs halfway through the book, with just five sly piranhas left.  On the facing page, the text reads: "And with a gulp and a girgle, number six had vanished too. (large space)  Five sly piranhas were swimming in the river,/ Five rougish rascals, all rotten to the core./ Then one spied another, eating beetles at the bottom."  (The next page reads: "And with a gulp and a girgle, there were only four."  Fun!)

4.  Elevator Magic 
A MathStart series book by Stuart Murphy; illustrated by Brian Karas

Elevator Magic mathstart subtraction book

(1st grade - 2nd grade)  Elevator Magic is a cute MathStart series book that tells the story of Ben and his mother, who are in a skyscraper and must make a few stops on their way to the ground floor. Ben wants to be the one to push the elevator buttons, so he must use subtraction to decide what floor to go to next.

Murphy also uses play on words to create a little 'elevator magic.' (ie: the Farm Bank and Trust actually opens up into a farm). It's never made clear whether the boy is just imagining everything, but regardless, this twist adds a bit of fun to the story. School Library Journal called it "amusing as well as informative." We agree. And the fact that the illustrations are by Brian Karas is a nice bonus. We love his work!

Below are two sample spreads from inside this book. The first spread occurs near the beginning of the book, when the Ben's mother informs him that their first stop on the way down to the lobby of the tall office building is two floors down. He then calculates what floor that is so that he can push the right button. ("Mom said 2 floors down. Which one do I press? We're on 10. 2 floors down. 10-2=8. I think that floor 8 would be the best guess").

5.  The Hershey's Kisses Subtraction Book 
by Jerry Pallotta; illustrated by Rob Bolster

Hersheys Kisses Subtraction book for kids

(Kindergarten - 2nd grade)  Author and educator Jerry Pallotta teaches children subtraction in this tasty-looking book featuring the well-known chocolate Hershey's Kisses! Children love chocolate! And what better way to teach them the basics of subtraction than with yummy Hershey's Kisses? This follow-up title to The Hershey's Kisses Addition Book, which also features wacky and colorful clowns, is taught by Jerry Pallotta in a fun, relaxed way that has become his trademark!

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Why use kid's books for teaching subtraction?

Just as direct instruction and daily practice are important parts of teaching subtraction, so is helping children to 'see subtraction' in the real world.  Even if that world is a fictional one (ie: a fictional math subtraction book), kids who can see the application of subtraction in a setting outside of their math worksheets will be better able to apply subtraction in a range of situations, even unfamiliar ones.

And, story problems make much more sense to kids who have been exposed to the books like the ones listed above.  Kids who find subtraction story problems (or math in general) 'annoying' might just start to realize why all this subtraction learning is important after all. That's the wonder and power of good stories! :)

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subtraction books for children