I’ve done lots of previous posts about alphabet books illustrated with relief block prints, but I just received a review copy of a lovely counting book illustrated with wood block prints, so now’s the time to do a post on the handful of block-printed counting books I’ve found, starting with the brand new one.
The illustrations - watercolored woodcuts of nature scenes in double-page spreads, each one with a north star up in a corner. I see more of Bowen’s rougher style than Prange’s in these illustrations, although perhaps Prange gets credit for some of the more unusual viewpoints, such as the view of the river from underwater looking up. (I wouldn’t have minded a note in the back about how these two wonderful artists collaborated!) The later numbers get quite complicated and will definitely challenge children to find and count everything.
What’s special about it - Each page introduces a new number, but also counts down all the previous numbers. Unlike most cumulative verses, however, every number represents a new animal or plant each time instead of repeating the previous pages’ animals, leading to a huge variety of different species over the course of the book. Also, each page, with all its appropriate plants and animals, is set in a different Minnesota habitat. Finally, humans are reminded that we live under the North Star, too. It counts from 1-10, and includes at the back information and scientific nomenclature for all 55 species, as well as information about the habitat areas, and instructions on how to find the North Star in the night sky. There’s a lot of great natural history here for any curious child.
My favorite - 4 dwarf trout lilies
The illustrations - richly colored multi-block linoleum prints, set apart on single pages. I always love Wormell’s dramatic depictions of animals.
What’s special about it - Rather than showing numbers of animals, this book counts parts, such as 4 giraffe legs, 10 bear claws, and 14 rings on the lemur’s tail. It counts from 1-20, and includes at the back a sentence or two of information about each of the animals featured.
My favorite - 6 frog eyes
The illustrations - detailed potato prints in warm autumnal colors, with decorative borders framing each numbers’ grouping. Each number is represented with fruits and vegetables, along with their leaves and occasional sunflowers for extra decoration.
What’s special about it - It counts from 1-10, but also shows 20, 30, 40, 50, and 100, a bonanza for the child who loves to count! At the back there are instructions for potato printing.
My favorite - 50 blackberries
The illustrations - brightly watercolored woodcuts of nature and farm-yard scenes in double-page spreads, each one featuring the eponymous cat.
What’s special about it - This includes a very simple story in rhyming text with a repetitious refrain, counting all the small animals the Barn Cat sees. It counts from 1-10 and ends with the cat getting milk.
My favorite - 1 grasshopper or 6 dragonflies
The illustrations - multi-block multi-color woodcuts of scenes of people in the north woods, with sidebars framing the text and a simplified picture of the countable objects.
What’s special about it - Like Bowen’s Northwoods Alphabet, the text follows the year (May through December) as it counts all sorts of different things, and includes interesting explanations about the various tasks to prepare for a rural winter. It’s the only one of these books to include zero. It counts from 0-12. (But I do have to quibble that Bowen misstates the woolly bear caterpillar myth, saying a wider light band means a harder winter. In fact, the myth is that the narrower the light band, the harder the winter - although in fact in fact, it’s just a myth anyway and the woolly bear’s stripe pattern doesn’t have any correlation at all with the coming weather.)
My favorite - 11 friends
I’m a big fan of each of these illustrators, and they’re all beautiful books. All of these artists except Beckie Prange have also done alphabet books, which you can see more about here. (Come on, Prange: it’s your turn now!) I’ve been toying for some time with ideas of doing my own animal counting poster, or possibly a book, so it’s fun to see some of the different ways others have approached it.
[Pictures: Four dwarf trout lilies nod, wood block print and watercolor by Betsy Bowen and Beckie Prange from One North Star, 2016;
6 frog eyes, multi-block linocut by Christopher Wormell from Teeth, Tails, and Tentacles, 2004;
Fifty blackberries, potato print by Diana Pomeroy from One Potato, 1996;
6 dragonflies, wood block print and watercolor by Mary Azarian from Barn Cat, 1998;
Eleven friends, multi-block woodcut by Betsy Bowen from Gathering, 1999.]