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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

Monster Musical Chairs (MathStart)

This is an adorable MathStart book that's aimed at teaching subtraction for very young children. 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). Bouncy rhymes and silly monsters keep the mood light and fun. If you do use this fun book for teaching 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. :)

Interest Level:   Preschool - Grade 1

If You Were a Minus Sign (MathFun)

Through kid-friendly illustrations and bouncy, clear explanations, this book teaches what a minus sign is and how it works. Spreads have examples of subtraction problems in text, pictures, and equations. [ie: "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. 9-8=1."]  Includes extension activities for teaching subtraction at the end. Good book!

Interest Level:   1st grade - 3rd grade

Ten Sly Piranhas: A Counting Story in Reverse

In Ten Sly Piranhas, a school of (non-scary) 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 we'll want to literally sing it to your class! :)

Interest Level:   Preschool - Grade 1

Elevator Magic (MathStart)

Ben and his mother 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.  And the fact that the illustrations are by Brian Karas is a nice bonus. We love his work! This book part of the fantastic MathStart series.

Interest Level:   Kindergarten - 2nd Grade

The Hershey's Kisses Subtraction Book

Author and educator Jerry Pallotta turns his attention to teaching subtraction in this tasty-looking  follow-up title to The Hershey's Kisses Addition Book.  Children love chocolate, and what better way to teach them the basics of subtraction than with yummy Hershey's kisses.  This book features wacky and colorful clowns and a fun, relaxed tone.

Interest Level:   Kindergarten - 2nd Grade

The Action of Subtraction (Math is Categorical)

Yea! Another zany math adventure from the Math is Categorical team of Cleary and Gable. Silly but educational rhyming text is paired with wacky cartoon cats and other animals. Together they teach about basic subtraction and provide ample instructive examples.  As usual, this Math is Categorical  book is just silly enough to attract the attention of kids who think they don't like math!  And it will definitely be popular among "teachers who want to appeal to a variety of learning styles." (School Library Journal)  A fun book on subtraction for kids.

Interest Level:   1st Grade - 3rd Grade

Subtraction Action by Loreen Leedy

Miss Prime is back, this time teaching basic subtraction, including the definition of 'difference', how to write an equation, regrouping, and more. A trip to the school fair then provides fun practical applications of subtraction for kids. It's "a zany book that is sure to make a difference!" (School Library Journal)

This book is a solid choice for your classroom library or for small group work--for students have some familiarity with subtraction (the pages are too busy for early introductions).  The format makes it difficult to use this book for whole class instruction, unless you have a document camera to project the images.

Interest Level:   1st Grade - 3rd Grade

SALE math books for kids (just $2.75 each)

Math-terpieces: The Art of Problem Solving

In this creative mix of art and math, Tang uses 12 famous works of art to help kids see the benefits of grouping. Each spread features a painting from a famous artist and a poem that poses a related math problem. For example, Degas' Dance Rehearsal is shown next to a page showing a number of ballet shoes. Readers are asked to find the sum by grouping by seven first ("Can you make 7 with these shoes? / Three clever ways earn rave reviews.")   Through the illustrations, readers can see that there are three distinct ways to logically, quickly group the shoes, rather than simple counting.

Interest Level:  1st grade - 3rd grade

Shark Swimathon (MathStart)

The Ocean City Sharks are preparing for the Shark Swimathon so a local bank offers to sponsor them if they can swim 75 laps by the end of the week. To meet their challenge, they swim every day and use subtraction to figure out how many laps are left to go. Two digit subtraction problems are discussed and written on a board by the coach -- which really helps drive home the subtractions problems for readers!  School Library Journal said "this entertaining story would work well as a supplement to lessons on two-digit subtraction." We agree. This MathStart book is a great pick for teaching subtraction for kids, especially for showing a 'real world' application, and could easily be extended into a hands on activity.

Interest Level:  1st grade - 3rd grade

Panda Math: Learning About Subtraction from Hua Mei & Mei Sheng

In Panda Math, readers see how the zoo caretakers regularly use subtraction to measure and assess different aspects of the pandas' early development (ie: bamboo consumption, life span, and sleep habits.) Each subtraction problem includes a graphic depiction to help visual learners see the math involved in the scenario.  There's quite a bit of text on every page, so you many want to break the book up into several different lessons.

Similar in format to the author's Tiger Math (graphing), Cheetah Math (division) or Chimp Math (time).   And one extra benefit... there's A LOT of interesting details about pandas (including adorable photos!) making it "a terrific cross-curricular book." (School Library Journal)

Interest Level:  2nd grade - 5th grade

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. For teachers, that part of teaching subtraction can be timely to put together and pull of successfully in the classroom; these children's books are a great help in this. If you are teaching subtraction to young kids, these books will be a time saver and add a lot of interest for your kids.

Enjoy the books!

Betsy, Cindy, and Virginia (the teachers/sisters behind this website)

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subtraction books for children