a list of … five books you can “count” on enjoying

wumbers cover imageWumbers, written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

What do you get if you mix numbers with words?  You get a jolly, clever, decoding game for early elementary on up.

For example:  “Would you like some honey 2 swee10 your tea?  Yes, that wumbers illustration tom lichtenheldwould be 1derful.

This book is loaded with page after page of juicy sentences — or should I say sen10ces — like that for you and your kids to puzzle out.  So much fun!

Tom Lichetenheld’s bright, bold, cartoon-style illustrations fill the book with a ton of pizzazz as well as giving us helpful hints to the sentence meanings.  Delightfully, the jacket blurbs, endpapers, title page, dedication…are all formatted (that’s “4matted”) in this crazy new alpha-number-bet.  Gr8 fun 4 all!!  Check it out!

infinity and me cover imageInfinity and Me, by Kate Hosford, illustrations by Gabi Swiatkowska

Looking at the stars in the huge night sky, Uma wonders how many there could possibly be.  Millions? Billions? Could there be an infinite number of stars?  And how big is infinity?

Uma begins trying to wrap her mind around the concept of infinity.  She asks her friends how they imagine it.    Numbers that grow forever, a figure eight racetrack that you drive around and around and never come to the end of — these are some ideas.  Yet thinking about how long forever is, thinking about endlessness, are such big ideas they make Uma’s head hurt, and make her feel very small.  Each person she asks has a new angle of considering infinity, something so far, so beyond our grasp, soinfinity and me illustration gabi swiatkowska tantalizing, Uma realizes even her questions about infinity are infinite.  In the end, though, when she rests in the love she shares with her Grandma — at once such an infinitely big love, yet so tangible — Uma’s searching mind is filled with happiness and peace.

I am so impressed that Kate Hosford has tackled this really difficult, thought-provoking topic, one which young children do indeed grapple with and which we adults are not really much better equipped to understand.  It’s written for ages 5-8, I’d say, and provides a great starting point for some really interesting discussions.  An Author’s Note addressed to parent/readers, tells how Hosford polled a number of children to gather their thoughts on infinity.  Incredibly interesting.

If you were handed a book on infinity to illustrate, how would you do it?  Gabi Swiatkowska’s mixed media illustrations are fanciful, yet anchored in child-friendly, very human elements.  I love how Uma’s wide, wondering eyes, as well as others’ faces and eyes,  are what draw my attention on almost every page.  Both the human factor and the imaginative features of her illustrations help pull the book’s profound ideas and questions right into the world of a young child very effectively.

animal 1 2 3 cover imageAnimal 1 2 3, by Britta Teckentrup

Here’s a clever, cheery, Crayola-bright counting book for the tiniest squirts, just dipping their toes into book-land.

Let me try to explain the brilliant concept Britta Teckentrup has used in this new (2012) book.

The first, aqua-blue, double-page spread shows one curling, twisting snake, persimmon and chocolate segments marching along his long body, a pleasant smile on his very-not-scary face.  On the right side of the page is a large, goldenrod number 1.  “1 wriggly snake” it says.  This number, though, is a flap to open, and when you do the whole scene extends and morphs. We discover that actually, there are two snakes — one of them was just hidden by the flap; his tail looked like it belonged to that first snake.  Now the page is labeled: “2 wriggly snakes.”

Next up are “2 marching elephants.”  There’s a big mama elephant, with junior walking behind her, grasping her tailanimal 1 2 3 illustration britta teckentrup 001 with his trunk.  The large red “2” is, happily, another flap, and when it opens, there’s an even smaller baby joining the parade to make “3 marching elephants.”

Radiating color, featuring beautifully designed animals and those extremely clever flaps that transpose the scene — so exciting to open them and find one more creature hiding there — this book will be a giant hit with very young children.  Meanwhile, learning the numbers through 10, counting the animals on each page, and finding out what one more makes, are all foundational math concepts children will absorb without anyone making a fuss about it.

Printed on sturdy card stock to hold up to many, many page turnings, with a heavy-duty cover that sticky fingers can’t harm, this book by an illustrator from Berlin is a gem for ages 1 and up.

one grain of rice cover imageOne Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale, written and illustrated by Demi

Once upon a time, in India, there lived a foolish raja.  He thought of himself as wise and just, but honestly — he was quite self-centered.

The raja decrees that each year, his people, who are rice farmers, must give him the vast bulk of their rice crop — for safekeeping, in case of famine, so he says.  But when famine comes to the land, the raja keeps the rice for himself.

In the midst of these dark days, a young girl named Rani  happens upon a few grains of rice and hatches a very clever plan. Offering the rice back to the raja, she is rewarded by him.  Any wish she has, he will grant.  Rani asks for a single grain of rice, adding, since the raja wishes to be more one grain of rice illustration demi 001generous, that for each of the next 30 days, he should double the quantity of rice given on the previous day.

This seems to the raja like a curiously skimpy wish, yet he agrees.

From one grain, to two, and then four, Rani is presented each day with double her previous gift.  The effect of this exponential increase, of course, soon leads to gargantuan quanitities of rice.  What will she do with it all?  And what effect does this have on the foolish raja?

Demi tells this exciting, satisfying tale pleasantly, and illustrates it in gorgeous, Oriental splendor.  Golden accents, ornate robes, Indian architecture, and a bevy of exotic animals grace these pages.  You can almost smell the curry and incense!  As the loads of rice increase, the herds of animals carrying the sacks grow larger and larger, filling the pages so much that fold-outs are required to cram all 256 elephants, plodding their way to Rani with their burden of rice.

A chart at the book’s end shows the number progression, encouraging readers to add up all 30 numbers and discover the grand total of rice Rani receives.  A remarkable glimpse at the magic of  multiplication for ages 6 and up.

more fewer less cover imageMore, Fewer, Less, by Tana Hoban

Tana Hoban was an amazing photographer who gave us so many wonderful books,  tapping into children’s inborn sense of curiosity, wonder, and unique perspectives, respecting their keen minds completely.  She showed us the world of possibilities everywhere we look, how much there is to see, how many ideas lie in the most ordinary scenes.  I loved looking at her books together with my children when they were young, and the older I get, the more I am impressed by her work.

This particular book explores ideas of quanitity.  Each photograph invites us to look, to notice where there are more, or fewer.  Each photo allows for different angles on the subject, according to what grabs the viewer’s attention. There are no words or prompting questions — all of this is left up to the child.   There are more chickens inside the coop than outside, one child might observe.  Another might see tana hobanthat there are far more white chickens than speckled.  Still another might notice the dried corn cobs on the ground and wonder if there are more of them inside the coop, even though we can’t see them.  One may simply wonder about their tomato-red combs and wattles.

These quiet moments of observation, of intently looking, of talking about something interesting, or moving on to a photograph they find more compelling, are incredibly rich  brain food.  I feel deeply sad for the frenetic pace and level of “noise” our children experience currently, depriving them of leisurely opportunities to think for themselves, to imagine, to wonder, to chat with an unhurried adult.

Pick up a Tana Hoban book, settle in with a child, and learn the art of looking, together.

Here are Amazon links for these titles you can count on enjoying:

Infinity and Me (Carolrhoda Picture Books)
Animal 123 (Templar)
One Grain Of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale
More, Fewer, Less