a list of…five books about a NUMBER of things

There are 3 pigs and 3 little kittens,  7 dwarves and 12 dancing princesses,  5,000 hats of Bartholomew Cubbins and of course one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish…Lots of storybooks advertise their insides with numbers on the outsides.  Here are a few to check out: 


The Tale of Two Bad Mice, written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter

Hunca Munca and her husband Tom Thumb are two curious mice who live in the floorboards near a very beautiful red brick doll house.  The house is not only pretty, but inside is a lovely table set out with all sorts of delightful food — a beautiful yellow ham, shiny, with reddish streaks, some pears and oranges, and even two red lobsters. Also a pantry with canisters sporting enticing labels such as rice, tapioca and currants.  These two mice are dreadfully disappointed to discover that the food is made only of plaster and glue and the canisters hold nothing but beads!  And… their disappointment turns into some extremely naughty mischief-making in the dollhouse.  Oh, dear!   You will be glad to know that both Hunca Munca and Tom Thumb do try to make amends in the end for their destructive ways! 

This is one of Beatrix Potter’s classic, charming little books featuring her perfect illustrations and completely devoid of condescending language.  Beatrix Potter uses turns of phrase, vocabulary, and realistic action which wonderfully suit the imagination and intelligence and forthrightness of children.  We have loved this particular book, and have had our own Hunca Munca namesake — ours was a very sweet little hamster.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears, retold and illustrated by Jan Brett 

No need to summarize this story! I will say that Jan Brett’s retelling is a very traditional version of the story.  No surprises here.  And really, you can tell the story in your own words for that matter. 


Her illustrations for this tale are gorgeous, fairy-woodland delights!  From her imaginative thatched-roof-and-stone cottage to the handsome, regal, decorative outfits of the Bear family, to the fanciful architectural details and whimsical pottery filling the Bears’ rooms, every page is filled with wonder-filled pictures.  The detailed furry faces of the bears, the woodland creatures and motifs sprinkled everywhere, and the side-story of a couple of little mice which meanders its way among the borders and illustrations of the book — all of it is lovingly, beautifully drawn. 

Jan Brett has been giving us lovely picture books for about 30 years now.  This one is from 1987.  It’s definitely worth looking for.

Five Creatures, by Emily Jenkins, with pictures by Tomek Bogacki

Here is a very clever book!  Do you know what a Venn diagram is?  They pop up in math books by about grade 2, it seems to me.  Say you have a group of children, some of whom like chocolate cake, some of whom like butterscotch pudding, some who like both, some who like neither.  A Venn diagram is a way of grouping these children in overlapping circles to represent who lies in one circle, who lies in another, who lies in both, who lies in neither.  Quite fun. 

In Five Creatures, Emily Jenkins surveys and sorts her own family using many, varied categories.  “Five creatures live in our house,” she says.  “Three humans and two cats.  Three short and two tall…Three with orange hair, and two with gray…Four who like to eat fish…Two who like to eat mice.  Only one who likes to eat beets.”  And so on.  Depending on the category, the five household members join and split apart into many different groupings.  Great fun, and good  brain fodder.  The pictures are warm, happy, childlike drawings which often help us discern, for example, which four can open cupboards.

The Five Chinese Brothers, story by Claire Huchet Bishop and pictures by Kurt Wiese

According to an old Chinese folktale, there were once five brothers who had highly unusual talents.    One could swallow the sea, one had an iron neck, one could stretch his legs to tremendous lengths, one could not be burned, and one could hold his breath forever.  These five brothers looked exactly alike — a very important consideration in this tale.  Enter a peevish, disobedient child who does not keep his promise and jeopardizes the whole family of five brothers.  How the five used their identical faces and their incredible skills to save one another’s lives is the subject of this extraordinary, humorous Chinese tall tale.  It is a story full of suspense and laughter and satisfaction for young listeners and it has been well-loved since it was published in 1938. 

Kurt Wiese has created the simple yet marvelously clever illustrations for this book.  Everyone loves to see the massive, full-to-bursting cheeks of the brother who has swallowed the sea, and the third brother’s long legs s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g up the page.

101 Things to do with a Baby, words and pictures by Jan Ormerod

There truly are 101 activities in this delightful book, each one with its own picture!  It’s a book sweetly filled with warm family love, and honest baby realities.  There are very few words — just the few necessary to caption each picture. 

This family consists of Dad and Mom, big sister and the little under-one-year baby brother.  The 101 things take us through an entire day of fussing with, playing with, caring for, enjoying, and even becoming exasperated with the baby.  The list includes feeding the baby cereal and cleaning him up, doing exercises together, tickling his tummy, introducing him to dogs and snails and fish, cuddling him, scolding him, and finally, kissing him good night. Big sister features largely in the day’s activities, and she clearly loves that baby boy.  True, when he eats her book she gets quite perturbed.  But they make up quickly.  

Jan Ormerod’s soft, simple, clear illustrations are perfect  for this homey, gentle vision of a family life which includes hanging out the washing and going on a picnic, setting up small, puckered play tents and blowing kisses on baby’s belly.  Lots of life just revolves around that baby.  Great for big siblings, and tenderly inspiring for parents, too.