Reading about math was not like this when I was young.
Here are my most favorite books - all yummy!
... from board books to adult stories, from number pairs to infinity and surreal numbers. (I've just guessed at the ages.)
(Photo by Foxtongue)
Quack and Count, by Keith Baker (ages 2 to 7)
This is a board book, so it's good for the youngest child who will sit and listen to a story. But it stays good because it's so luscious. Great illustrations, fun rhythm and rhyme, cute story, and good mathematics. 7 ducklings are enjoying themselves in every combination. “Slipping, sliding, having fun, 7 ducklings, 6 plus 1.” (And then 5 plus 2, etc.) It would be great to have a book like this for all the number pairs that make 8, and one for 9, etc. If I ever get to teach math for elementary teachers again, I'd love to get my students to make books like this one.
Anno's Counting House, by Mitsumasa Anno (ages 2 to 7)
Everything I've seen by Mitsumasa Anno is delightful. There is so much to see in his books, many of which have no words. In this book, ten people are moving from one house to another. In each two-page spread you can see one more person who's moved from the left house to the right, and lots of furniture and other small items. In Anno's Mysterious Multiplying Jar, there is one island with two counties, with three mountains each, ..., until we get to ten jars within each box - a lovely, very visual representation of factorials. Anno's Magic Seeds does have words, and tells a fascinating story, of a plant whose seed, when baked, will keep you from being hungry for a full year. The plant grows two seeds in a year, and one needs to be used to grow a new plant... He's written over 40 books, most available in English.
How Hungry Are You?, by Donna Jo Napoli and Richard Tchen (ages 3 to 12)
There are lots of great of great books on sharing equally. Until recent, my favorite was The Doorbell Rang, by Pat Hutchins, but this one is even more delightful. The picnic starts with just two friends, rabbit is bringing 12 sandwiches and frog is bringing the bug juice. Monkey wants to come, "My mom just made cookies. I could take a dozen." They figure out how much of each goody each friend will get. In the end, there are 13 of them, and the sharing becomes more complicated.
The Cat in Numberland, by Ivar Ekeland (ages 5 to adult)
The cat who lives in the Hotel Infinity gets confused when the hotel is full, and the numbers are all able to move up one room to make room for zero. This story is charming enough to entertain young children, and deep enough to intrigue anyone.
The Number Devil, by Hans Magnus Enzensberger (ages 7 to adult)
The Number Devil visits Robert in his dreams, and gets him thinking about the strangest things! Rutabaga numbers and prima donnas (roots and primes) are just the beginning. Anyone who'd like a gentle introduction to lots of interesting math topics will enjoy this one.
Powers of Ten, by Philip and Phylis Morrison (ages 6 to adult)
The first photo shows a couple having a picnic. It's shot from one meter above them. The next is from 10 meters, then 100. After we've traveled to the edge of the universe, we come back to the couple, and zoom in. Each page has one large photo, and explanatory text about what can be seen at that level.
The Man Who Counted, by Malba Tahan (ages 6 to adult)
Written in Brazil, set in the Middle East, these stories follow the adventures of Beremiz, an accomplished mathematical problem-solver. He uses math to settle disputes, solve riddles and mysteries, and entertain his hosts.
Mathematics: A Human Endeavor, by Harold Jacobs (ages 12 to adult)
This one is a textbook, and it's delightful. The first chapter, on inductive and deductive reasoning, uses pool tables to get the student thinking about patterns. Chapters on sequences, graphing, large numbers, symmetry, mathematical curves, counting (permutations and combinations), probability, statistics, and topology round out an introduction to a wide variety of math topics, accessible to beginners.
Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture, by Apostolos Doxiadis (adult)
Uncle Petros is a recluse. Our hero, his nephew, is trying to discover his secrets. It seems he was close to solving Goldbach's conjecture, that every even number greater than 2 is the sum of two prime numbers. There is just a tiny bit of math in this, but lots of (slightly twisted) history of math.
Euclid in the Rainforest, by Joseph Mazur (adult)
Logic, infinity and probability are the topics. Adventures in Venezuela, Greece, and New York furnish the background. Mazur has wide-ranging interests, and skillfully brings the math to life.
Chances Are: Adventures in Probability, by Michael and Ellen Kaplan (adult)
History, philosophy, science, and statistics all come together in this delightful exploration of probability.
Surreal Numbers, by Donald Knuth (adult, with well-developed math skills)
This book requires lots of work, doing the math, and what fun work it can be. Alice and Bill are enjoying their extended vacation on an isolated tropical beach , but are getting a bit bored, when they discover a rock with two 'rules' on it. Conway has invented number through these two rules, and Alice and Bill (and the reader) are sucked in, trying to figure out how it all works. This is higher math.
(An overlapping list is at Nerdy Book Club. A more complete list is on my Math Books page.)