My favorite book in that realm is Sheila Tobias' Overcoming Math Anxiety. Her story was being one of those people who had been scared out of math and science. Later, she decided that she liked physics and would slog through the math she had to, that was preventing her from doing the science she liked. Along the way, she discovered many myths that she had bought in to, things that produced anxiety in her when math was mentioned. Hence the title.
In talking with people, anxiety stands out as a major barrier. One of the myths I'll mention here is that some people just have some magical 'math gene' that makes it easy for them, and nobody else can do any math. But it's only math that needs this magical gene. Nobody says "I can't play basketball, I don't have the magic gene for it." Basketball, we all know, you can play regardless. If you practice more, you'll get better. If you want to play professionally, then, yes, you need good genes. And that's probably also true for mathematics. But you don't need to be a professional level basketball player to enjoy playing the game. And you don't need to be a professional level mathematician to do science.
If you had to be professional level at math to do science, I couldn't be doing science. I'm pretty good with math. But, to continue the basketball analogy, I'm more the level of a very good high school player or decent college player. I did earn a bachelor's degree in applied mathematics. But only that much. And that puts me with more math than most scientists -- folks who are doing quite good science.
More specific to pre-teen and early teen age girls is Danica McKellar's Math Doesn't Suck. I mentioned this book before in holding place, and surprised quasarpulse (my daughter) by mentioning it favorably. See her comments there in full.
My pro- comments stand. But quasarpulse's objections also do. Summarizing a little:
- The mathematics is explained correctly, and conversationally.
- Beyond the mathematics, there is a strong positive 'you can do it' message.
- For the target audience of middle school to junior high (call it 10-15 years old) girls who are reading or watching stereotypical (and stereotyping) magazines or shows aimed at the same age group, it includes enough references to that culture (personality 'quizzes', for instance) that the book is not alien.
- Too much following the stereotype. To quote quasarpulse ... they seek to feminize math not just by making it look pretty, but by making its content and application appropriately feminine.
My take is that for the level of McKellar's books, most math examples from any book are functionally equivalent to that shopping. In quasarpulse's terms, I think it is merely a matter of painting the power tools pink. In these books, the girls are shopping for cute shoes. In older math books, the examples were shopping for baseball gloves. You understand as much mathematics either way. And if, after going through your math class (or math book), you can't figure what a 12% discount on a $23 pair of shoes is, but only if it were a $23 baseball glove (or vice versa), you haven't really learned the math. But that isn't the fault of the examples.
There's a different matter quasarpulse raised, and on that we're in complete agreement. I just don't think it's an issue to be addressed best by math books. That is the experience gap. People who never do any things like throw balls, run around, play with rockets, build bridges from toothpicks, and so on, find it difficult to learn physics. Usually it's girls who don't have that experience. Best way to address it, I think, is for kids to do and try as many different things as possible whether at school or at home. My ideal math book would also pull its examples widely.
All that said, of the two of us, only quasarpulse has been a girl age 10-15. And she is heading towards her math/science/engineering degree, because of, and in spite of, her experiences along the way. So I weight her opinion highly.