Picture Book Perfect Friday – How Much is a Million?

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How much is a Million by David M. Schwartz, pictures by Steven Kellogg

Published by Lothrop, Lee and Shepherd Books in 1985

Ages 2-10


Themes: Concept Book on large numbers

Opening/Synopsis: “If one million kids climbed onto one another’s shoulders, they would be taller than the tallest buildings, higher than the highest mountains, and farther up than airplanes can fly.” Marvelosissimo the Mathematical Magician holds an unforgettable math class. This book basically explains about how much a million would be visually, comparing it to kids standing on shoulders, or stars on a page or goldfish in a goldfish bowl. He then proceeds to use the same imagery to explain a billion and a trillion.

Why I Like this Book: The author is a mathematician, who wanted to help kids experience the awe of big numbers he himself had experienced as a kid. We hear big numbers mentioned often these days but what do they really mean. If you wanted to count to a million, Schwartz says it would take 23 days! It offers brilliant visuals, whimsically illustrated by Kellog, to make very concrete these abstract figures! The book contains three very detailed pages explaining the exact calculations Schwartz used. these are not random pictures he presents!

Activities/Resources: For older children engage in a discussion about big numbers.  Start smaller –  children could group items of 10 ten times over in order to represent 100. Then, you could start a year long project where you create stars to see how many you could make. Ideally, you would make several hundred over the course of the year to show how long it takes to really get to 1 million.

Have students guess how many pages there would need to be for a trillion stars. Give them 100 of something and have them guess what a million of that would look like.

Using the three visuals in the book, children could work backwards and work out how big a goldfish bowl would have to be for 1000, 100, 10 or 1 goldfish.

For younger children… even timing how long it takes to count to ten or a hundred…..

I realize this book is over 25 years old, but I truly believe it has lasting appeal and I wanted to find something today to kick of a list of more mathematical and scientific picture books for our readers.

For more books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.


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42 Responses to Picture Book Perfect Friday – How Much is a Million?

  1. Great clever visuals to help kids count. Certainly is a timeless piece with detailed artwork. Great find Joanna. I love the way you set up your book review series, always interesting. Thanks Joanna.

  2. I love this book! We had it in the high school library’s professional collection with many other picture books. Great for visualizing large numbers in math classes (lots of students recognized it & were glad to see it again) and for practical math with our Life Skills students (cognitive delays, etc).

    Yes, older books can still be great new books for kids and families who haven’t “met” them yet!

  3. Natalie says:

    My son loves numbers! In fact he is always asking me to compare and compute numbers. This of course, isn’t one of my favorite activities. 🙂 This is the kind of stuff that makes him tick though. We will definitely have to read this book together. I love your activity suggestions. These are right up his alley.

  4. Steven Kellogg’s illustrations are all so recognizable. Unfortunately my library does not carry this wonderful book.

  5. What a clever book to help kids have fun with numbers — big numbers. I am impressed with the authors approach as it makes numbers real to kids — even those who may not like math. Love it that is was written by a mathematician. The illustrations look very detailed nd engaging, which would be important for a story like this. I liked your activity suggestions. Very nice selection for kids.

  6. clarbojahn says:

    The resources sound terrific and the book is one I would definitely want to read. Thanks for introducing it to us. 🙂

  7. Great pick! We are big Steven Kellogg fans in our house. We like this book and Millions to Measure too!

  8. Terrific find Joanna, thanks for the review.

  9. Joanna, you are right about it having lasting appeal. We got a copy at a library sale and both of my kids love it. It really does give a tangible way to appreciate the enormity of big numbers. Even non-number folks (like myself) love this book!

  10. I can totally relate to this book! I always struggle to envision what numbers that big mean. What a great idea for a book, and how helpful! I am just going to bring a wheelbarrow with me to the library so I can trundle all the books I want to read out to the car 🙂 I’m so glad you chose a book about numbers/math – we really don’t have much in that area on our list. Thanks, Joanna 🙂

  11. This might be a good one for some of the US newscasts to explain US debt, etc. (Sorry read this after watching a news report). Looks like a fun book. I’m going to see if our library has this one.

  12. What a great book to pique their interest and teach them something too. Wonderful choice Joanna!

  13. I read this book in second grade! I loved it!
    P.S. Did you know that the same author and illustrator wrote another book with Marvelosissimo the Mathematical Magician in it? It’s about money ($). I recommend that one too!

  14. Wow! *wishing I’d thought of this big idea to write about* What a fantastic choice! This book teaches big numbers in a fun and exciting way. I need this one too. Oh hubby, I need the amazon card. We live on a farm and too far from a library. *sigh*

  15. Aw! This sounds wonderful! Kids need the “visual” part of things. That’s how they think when they’re still young. This is great. I’d like to get this one for my kids. I think they would love it.

    • Joanna says:

      I think I need the visual too, Leigh. 🙂 This really helped me get the difference between a million, a billion and a trillion… as they all just seemed huge to me!

  16. Loni Edwards says:

    This looks like a wonderful learning tool! I like your suggestions for activities also. Great review Joanna! Have a great weekend!

  17. What a great choice, Joanna! I used to read this book out loud to my 5th grade students when I taught 5th grade math. It really does put large numbers in prespective for kids. And I love anything illustrated by Steven Kellogg!

    • Joanna says:

      I am a fan of Kellogg’s art, too, Kelly. I think it can be used in math classes throughout the primary and with older kids.

  18. Ah, I would have liked this book when I was teaching math. Large numbers are always so hard to convey.

  19. Wonderful learning tool…but then most great picture books are that, I believe. 🙂
    I’ve always loved Stephen Kellogg’s illustrations…I read it many times to the kids. A hundred times…a million times…hahaha! Thanks for selecting this one, Joanna.

  20. Nice choice. Teachers would find this very useful. I added it to my list of library books.

  21. I just listed this down as one of my ‘books-to-borrow’ from our library. Looks like a visual feast exploded in bright shining multi-layered colors on the pages! Yummy! 🙂

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