Saturday, March 6, 2010

Parents guide to counting books: learning numbers big and small

Learning to count can be a fun experience. All you need are items to count, a fun counting book or two, and a lot of enthusiasm! Your child will quickly catch on and will be counting everything in sight in no time at all. Here are some suggested counting books old and new by Elizabeth Yetter at

Counting Books

Mouse Count by Ellen Stoll Walsh (Voyager Books) is a classic one-to-ten counting book that children absolutely love.

Who doesn’t love cookies? In Cookie Count: A Tasty Pop-up by Robert Sabuda (Little Simon), children learn how to count to ten while having fun with the nifty pop-ups. With illustrations of cookies, it’s enough to make any hungry adult drool.

If you have a little boy then you know that dinosaur books are an absolute must. In How Do Dinosaurs Count To Ten? by Jane Yolen (Blue Sky Press), children learn to count to ten with funny illustrations and rhyming text.

One Boy by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Ages 2–6. (Roaring Brook Press) This clever peek-a-boo book counts from one to ten and also reveals words within words. Young children will enjoy discovering the hidden words—when the boy is alone, the word "one" is revealed within "alone."

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury, Ages 3–5.(Harcourt) The rhythmic rhyming text in this picture book for very young children is addictive. Adorable multicultural babies are added with each new stanza.

Potato Joe by Keith Baker, Ages 4-8. (Harcourt) If it can rhyme with potato, Potato Joe and his nine potato friends have thought of it. The simple illustrations complement the rhymes in this counting book, and kids will be eager to turn the page to see what the silly spuds are up to next.

For children who love stories about animals, you’ll want to check out the Liberian folktale Two Ways to Count to Ten retold by Ruby Dee (Henry Holt and Co). In this story, jungle beasts learn to count. This is a great book for reading out loud.

Count! by Denise Fleming (Henry Holt and Co.) is a colorful book that teaches children to count from one to ten and then count by tens, ten to fifty.

Can You Count Ten Toes?: Count to 10 in 10 Different Languages by Lezlie Evans (Houghton Mifflin) is an exciting book because it teaches kids (and adults) how to count to ten in ten different languages.

Fish Eyes: A Book You Can Count On by Lois Ehlert (Voyager Books) is a fun book on counting. Children quickly take to this book because of its bright colors.

Finally, if you’re just looking for a simple one to ten board book, check out Spot Counts From 1 to 10 by Eric Hill (Putnam Juvenile). It’s a classic counting book your toddler will love.

More Counting Ideas

Along with the counting books, there are other great things you can do with your child to teach her how to count. For example, some children like to sort out their wood blocks by color or shape. Help your child sort each block and then count how many blocks are in each pile. Always keep your eyes open for things to count. If you feed the birds, help your child count how many birds are at the feeder. Count flowers in your garden. Have your child help set the dinner table by having him carefully count out napkins or spoons. Count buttons on a shirt.

Here's Jim Holt, in The New York Times, with a further description of One Boy by Laura Vaccaro Seeger and some other math-related books for kids:

One Boy acquaints a child with the numbers from one to 10. Each number is introduced with a simple but charming trick: a rectangular cutout in the page reveals a bit of what lies overleaf, inviting the reader to make a guess at the surprise to come with the turn of the page. “Five mice.” Five mice what? Turn the page. . . . “Skate on ice.” It’s not just about counting; it’s about realizing that the word “ice” is contained in “mice.” Seeger’s palette is bold and rich — and those who experience numbers coloristically (in my case, four is blue, seven is green and eight is orange) know how important this can be in making friends with them. Yet the ending of “One Boy” is somewhat dark. (Spoiler alert: it involves a quantity of ants in the boy’s pants.)

For the slightly older child, The Real Princess: A Mathemagical Tale ought to prove a beguiling mix of number lore and fairy tale. The plot elements will be familiar: three princes looking for brides, a king with three bags of gold and a queen with nine magic peas. But running through Brenda Williams’s story is a riot of numerical coincidences, some turning on the curious fact that if you take various multiples of nine (18, 27, 36, 45 etc.) and add up the digits (1+8, 2+7, 3+6, 4+5), you always get nine back again. This is the kind of hidden pattern that children delight in discovering. And if some of the artsier parents fail to get it, they’ll at least smile at Sophie Fatus’s illustrations, which have a little of Marc Chagall in them, and a little of Joan MirĂ³.

We’re all born with a genetically wired “number sense,” so brain scientists tell us. Even a baby can immediately distinguish two rubber duckies from three. But what if it’s a matter of thousands of rubber duckies floating toward you? To take a less ludicrous case, how can one make a reasonable guess about the number of protesters at a political rally, or of seeds on a dandelion? Don’t count, says Bruce Goldstone — ­estimate! And in Greater Estimations (a sequel to his Great Estimations, which makes the author guilty of serial Dickens abuse) he reveals all the tricks for doing this swiftly and accurately: eye training, clump counting and so on. Is that cool? I don’t know. But it’s empowering — dare I say fun? — to have an instinctive grasp of really big numbers. And, when you grow up, you can get a job estimating the size of the crowd when Simon and Garfunkel sing in Central Park.

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