Counting Mania

June 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

Have You Seen My Dragon?My three year old is a counting fool. She counts the little green squares on her napkins (thank you, Target); she counts the steps up to her room; she counts everyone’s matches in our endless rounds of Go Fish. “I’m out of breath of counting!” she exclaimed the other day, after numerous laps around the house counting from 1 to 50. So, it only stands to follow that she would also want to read counting books, an especially robust subject matter in the world of children’s picture books (see my complete list of favorites at the end).

Emily’s current obsession is Steve Light’s new Have You Seen My Dragon? (Ages 2-5), which I knew would be a hit the instant I felt the green metallic foil dragon on the front (ooooooh, ahhhhhh). While most counting books can’t pretend to “teach” counting (with the exception of Anno’s Counting Book, the single best presentation of counting for children that I’ve ever seen), the good ones present clever ways to practice counting and to develop the finger control that goes along with it. Light’s unique approach combines counting with a game of hide and seek, as a boy searches for his pet dragon from one end of New York City to the other (a map inside the book’s cover gives kids a bird’s eye view of the entire journey). A close look on every page reveals the dragon hiding atop a water tower, in the elevator shaft of an apartment building, or beneath the sidewalk in a maze of sewer pipes. Speaking of sewers, I love that Light’s inspiration for this book came from his father telling him as a child that the steam coming up through the manhole covers in NYC was a dragon’s breath (“which made me want to live there!” he writes).

So where does counting come into play? On every spread, in addition to the brief narrative and the hiding dragon, is something to count, beginning with two hot dogs from a street vendor and ending with 20 lanterns in China Town. Light’s distinctive illustrative style makes abundant use of strong black lines, sometimes highly detailed and other times roughly penned, against which the only splashes of color are the items we’re supposed to count.

Light's awesome use of color against the black and white background; here to signal the 10 paint cans (and the paint that came out of them). See the dragon?

Light’s awesome use of color against the black and white background; here to signal the 10 paint cans (and the paint that came out of them). See the dragon?

Having just returned from taking Emily to the Big Apple—where I grew up—I’m especially excited about a book that so whimsically captures the excitement of the city, the diversity of the architecture, and the other-worldliness that sometimes feels present above and below the manholes. The fact that Emily can get her counting on at the same time is just an added bonus. I’d like to see more counting books with this level of artistry. In fact, I’m counting on it.

Other Favorite Counting Books:
Anno’s Counting Book, by Mitsumasa Anno (Ages 2-6)
1-2-3 Peas, by Keith Baker (Ages 2-5; just published in a new board book form!)
1-2-3 A Child’s First Counting Book, by Alison Jay (Ages 2-6)
Ten Apples Up on Top, by Theo LeSieg (a.k.a Dr. Seuss)
Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3, by Bill Martin Jr. & Lois Ehlert (Ages 2-6)
Ten Little Caterpillars, by Bill Martin Jr. (Ages 3-6; reviewed here)
Richard Scarry’s Best Counting Book Ever, by Richard Scarry (Ages 3-6)
One is a Snail, Ten is a Crab, by April Pulley Sayre & Randy Cecil (Ages 4-8)

AND…for those with older kids obsessed with numbers, don’t miss:
The History of Counting, by Denise Schmandt-Besserat & Michael Hays (Ages 7-12)
Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci, by Joseph D’Agnese & John O’Brien (Ages 7-12)

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