Chelsey Bahlmann Bollinger and Victoria Pennington
The playful storytelling approach of the books reviewed in this column make learning concepts such as numbers, colors, shapes, opposites, seasons of the year, and days of the week fun for preschool-age children. Each book holds the promise of an engaging shared experience when read aloud one on one or with a group of children at storytime.
A Beautiful House for Birds (Storytelling Math). Grace Lin. (2023). Charlesbridge.
In Grace Lin’s interactive, pattern-focused board book, a young Black girl named Olivia wants to paint a beautiful house for birds. She plans to start with painting the roof of a small wooden birdhouse. “How should I paint it?” She decides to paint a two-color pattern of pink and green stripes. As Olivia is painting her pattern, she gets distracted by a couple of birds. “Oh hello, birds.” Accidentally painting a blue stripe alters her pattern to green, pink, green, pink, blue. The back matter includes an ”Exploring the Math” note about expanding a child’s understanding of patterns and activities to involve children in making patterns using movement, words, and drawings.
In Between. April Pulley Sayre (with Jeff Sayre). (2023). Beach Lane.
“Every creature / on Earth / at times / finds / itself / in / between.” With a poetic text and beautiful close-up photographs of animals in their natural habitats, photo-illustrator and writer April Pulley Sayre explores the concept of in between. “In between meals. / In between trips. / In between homes.” Animals (mammals, birds, reptiles. amphibians, spiders, and insects) find themselves between life stages, movements and transformations and in almost-but-not yet situations. “Almost landed, / but not yet. // Almost asleep, but not yet. // Almost ready, / but not yet / living on one’s own.” Younger children will enjoy looking at the portraits of the animals and may be interested in learning their names; older children may be interested in talking about the concept of in between in the lives of humans and their own in-between times.
Kitty & Cat: Opposites Attract. Mirka Hokkanen. (2023). Candlewick.
Learning opposites will be fun reading Mirka Hokkanen’s picture book story told entirely through opposites such as old-new, big-little, and grumpy-happy and expressive digital artwork that focuses on the differences between a kitten and a cat as Kitty is brought home. For example, playful Kitty is energetic while Cat is exhausted and just wants to be left alone to nap. Hokkanen emphasizes the emotions of each cat through their facial expressions in this humorous picture book that ends with Kitty and Cat cuddling together. A final illustration suggesting the two felines soon will be joined by a puppy will leave readers eager for the sequel, Kitty and Cat: Bent Out of Shape, out in November 2023.
Noni the Pony Counts to a Million (Noni the Pony #4). Alison Lester. (2023). Beach Lane.
“Noni the pony stands under one tree . . . / and watches her two friends dance by the sea.” Young children will enjoy traveling through the countryside with Noni and her pals, Dave Dog and Coco the Cat, on a glorious summer day and counting the animals they encounter—from three hens to ten ladybird beetles. With her text of rhyming couplets and colorful, detailed illustrations, Australian author-illustrator Alison Lester continues this latest Noni the Pony story by introducing the more challenging numerical concepts of dozens, hundreds, thousands, and millions and ends with Noni and her pals sleeping under millions of stars. Young children will also enjoy the three earlier books in the series, Noni the Pony (2012), Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach (2015), and Noni the Pony Rescues a Joey (2019).
One Tiny Treefrog: A Countdown to Survival. Tony Piedra & Mackenzie Joy. (2023). Candlewick.
This captivating counting book offers children a gentle lesson on survival realities in the natural world as it presents the life cycle of the red-eyed treefrog. The countdown to survival begins with a cluster of ten eggs on a leaf in the Costa Rican rainforest. “Ten tiny tadpoles / grow in their egg.” Nine of the tiny tadpoles live and wiggle free to drop into the water below as one gets scooped up by a wasp. In the water, the number of survivors dwindle as predators pluck off the metamorphizing tadpoles one by one until only one tadpole remains to become an adult. “Zero tiny tadpoles. / One tiny treefrog.” The extensive back matter includes information about the red-eye treefrog and the other species of animals pictured and identified by their common and scientific names on the pages of the book and a bibliography.
One, Two, Three!: A Happy Counting Book. Sandra Boynton. (2023). Boynton Bookworks.
In this decidedly happy board book with a die-cut front cover featuring three hippos, Sandra Boynton’s rhyming text invites young children to count how many of her lovable animal characters are enjoying activities such as tea time, a car ride, acting in a play, and ballet dancing. “ONE is good for a quite walk. / TWO is right for a quiet walk. // THREE is nice for having tea / or for counting ONE TWO THREE.” Barnyard animals such as ducks and pigs play along with elephants, rhinos, and other animals to show how many are just right for each activity include a marching band of animals parades by. “TEN makes a celebration / LOUD!LOUD!LOUD!” Adults will appreciate the peacefulness of the ending: “And ONE is WONDERFUL after a crowd.”
Rainbow Days. Margaret Hamilton. Illus. by Anna Pignataro. (2023). Kane Miller.
The seven days of the week are paired with the seven colors of the rainbow in Rainbow Days with Margaret Hamilton’s simple, rhyming text and Anna Pignataro’s softly colored mixed-media illustrations. Readers will enjoy following the day-by-day activities of a young child and their family and pets throughout the week. For example, “Saturday with violets / And thread for sewing through / To make my gran a violet crown / That tells her ‘I love you.’” At the end of this cheerful and gentle book, there is a cameo appearance of Hamilton and Pignataro’s B Is for Bedtime (2015), which would be another cozy choice for one-on-one bedtime reading.
Some of These Are Snails. Carter Higgins. (2023). Chronicle.
With cut and collaged hand-painted paper images assembled digitally, Carter Higgins uses shape, color, and size to present patterns in a quirky and captivating way. The simple, rhythmic chant-like text focuses the attention of young readers on examining the images set against a white background. Readers are invited to respond to questions: “can you sort by color? / can you sort by size? / can you sort by shape or find the animals with eyes?” Interaction continues with more challenging pages to examine and questions to answer such as “who’s stripiest? / who’s spottiest / who’s wiggly wigglier wiggliest?” Readers are also encouraged to look closely at the images to see which are shapes and which are animals. Conversations are sure to be lively with this interactive picture book.
Together with You. Patricia Toht. Illus. by Jarvis. (2023). Candlewick.
The story of the shared experiences of a young boy and his grandmother through the seasons of the year is presented through Patricia Toht’s rhyming text, told from the perspective of the boy, and Jarvis’s colorful digital artwork. Readers learn about how the two get dressed for the weather and the activities they enjoy during each season. For example, in autumn, the boy zips up his fleece jacket while his grandmother pulls on her sweater, he covers his ears and she holds onto her hat as they walk in the wind, they fly a kite, and then enjoy a stroll hand in hand. The warm, cozy relationship of grandson and grandmother as they spend time together is clearly felt as the picture book ends. “For no matter the weather, / whatever we do, / every day’s better . . . // together with you.”
Where Are the Eggs? (Storytelling Math). Grace Lin. (2023). Charlesbridge.
Mei’s chickens have laid eggs in the yard. “Where could the eggs be?” Mei invites the reader to help her find the eggs on the pages of this interactive board book as she spots and describes the location of each egg in relation to an object in the yard. For example, one egg is next to the watering can and another egg is on top of an upturned wheelbarrow. In rereading the story, youngsters will enjoy pointing out the eggs and using position words to describe their locations. The back matter provides a note on exploring the math of spatial relations and some “Try This!” activities.
Chelsey Bahlmann Bollinger is an associate professor in the Early, Elementary, and Reading Department at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and a mom to two young readers. Victoria Pennington is a second year PhD student in the Literacy, Language and Culture program at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, and a mom to two young readers.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).