How Much Is a Million?

Eliza Clark
March 4, 2011

For a time, your preschooler will be pretty pleased with himself when he finds a penny on the sidewalk.  He'll drop it in his piggy bank and listen to it jangle around, and then empty the entire bank and count the four, five, maybe six coins that are clanking around in there.  This will be a thrilling moment for him, and he'll recount it with great pride to anyone who will listen. 

But it's amazing, isn't it, how quickly these young children catch on to the ways of the world.  Very soon, a few jangling pennies won't seem like much, and they'll be dreaming of bigger things.  They'll be saying things like "I wish I had a million pennies!"  "Do you have a million, Mama?"  Because really, who doesn't want a million?  A million sounds just great.

Not that any preschooler or kindergartner can really conceive of what a million pennies (much less dollars) means or looks like.  The whole notion of quantity comes into focus rather slowly during these years, partly because it's so difficult to describe with words.  Preschool and elementary teachers make a big deal out of the 100th day of school for this very reason, and a million is 10,000 times more difficult to picture (literally).  So that's why we turn to a few wonderful illustrators and storytellers to help us explain the mysteries of a million:

The brilliant David Schwartz, along with illustrator Steven Kellogg, has made a name for himself elucidating the vastness of a million.  His first book How Much Is a Million? provides an answer to this impossible question. The book is wonderfully fun, and it actually works to help little minds wrap around the seemingly impossible task of conceptualizing big numbers, something your preschooler will begin to work on in kindergarten. Marvelosissimo the Mathematical Magician shows his young friends and their pets that a million goldfish would need a fishbowl as big as a whale, that even seven full pages of the book printed with miniscule stars add up to only 100,000, that a million children standing on each other's shoulders would reach higher than airplanes fly. And then he tackles a billion and a trillion too.

Schwartz and Kellogg continued their mastery of a million in the equally valuable books Millions to Measure (keep a long measuring tape handy for this read), and If You Made a Million which is especially appealing to all young penny pinchers.

Another wonderful contribution to the literature of a million is Anna Milbourne and Serena Riglietti's How Big Is a Million?, the story of a little penguin who can only comprehend the vastness by looking up at the polar night sky.  Delightfully, the book comes with a poster for kids to unfold and see what a million stars looks like.

When they see how big a million really is, will our kids still long to have a million pennies?  We think they may soon see the value of a nice dollar bill.


From the Parents

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