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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

Millions — more than just numbers!

January 11, 2007

Have you ever stopped to think about a million? This gigantic number creeps into our everyday language (Gee, a million thanks ... It took a million years to get there!). But what is it? And what do kids need to know about the notion of a million? Why should they care?

Frankly, I never thought about how much a million represented and am not sure I even cared. That is until I read a book called How Much is a Million? by David Schwartz, illustrated by Steven Kellogg (HarperCollins, 1985). With Marvelosissimo the Mathematical Magician in the lead, a group of kids learn about and demonstrate the astounding, amazing, and engaging scope of a million, making the unfathomable more concrete.

Schwartz and Kellogg will engage even the most mathematically indifferent among us. The way they conceptualize a number beyond us is placed firmly within a child's grasp — and interests. For example, kids like to count but it would take 23 days to count to a million. A fishbowl big enough to hold a million goldfish would have room for a whale.

Engaging learners, allowing kids to solve problems creatively, making room for thinking outside of the proverbial box, this is what makes learning fun. And books can make that happen. In fact that's just what student teachers at Glasgow University discovered as they worked with elementary students. You can find this and other related articles in Today's Reading News.

I've got a million more ideas ... well, lots at least. But I'll share more thoughts on Millions some time in the future!


Don't forget the great kids book Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce, and the movie version!

Thanks for the great post, Maria. The Reading Teacher, Vol.59(2), 132–143, had a terrific article by Robin Ward about using children's literature with preservice teachers as a way to prepare them to teach math. There's a handy bibliography in there, as well as a variety of activities and ideas to use with the texts. Great topic!

David Schwartz gives a great presentation of his book, too. He came to visit international schools in Japan and was able to do a presentation for our SCBWI group. Two members traveled across Japan to attend. One told him afterwards, "You rock!"

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"You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend." — Paul Sweeney