Alison Lester: Noni the Pony counts to a million

Illustrated by the author

Published by Allen & Unwin, NSW, 2021

This is a wonderful counting and rhyming story featuring Noni the pony and her friends as they cavort and play by the grassy shoreline.

Beginning with Noni standing under one tree, we follow her watching two friends dance by the sea. Along the way, we meet three speckled hens, four laughing cows, five hopping wallabies, six wood-swallows swooping through the sky and many more friendly creatures.

Counting all the way up to 10, the next big number is found on Helga who has dozens of spots on her coat, and then on to Harry who has hundreds of spots all over his shaggy body.

Along the road in the dark of night, thousands of cars shine their headlights and finally under millions of stars, Noni and her friends fall fast asleep.

The numbers are highlighted in different colours in the text, and the simple rhymes make this easy to read to young children. The illustrations predominately use various hues of blues and greens which is soothing to look at and helps with the continuity of the story. All the creatures are easy to spot and a great introduction to the joys of counting.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below are more suggestions for picture books that teach us all about numbers:

How Do Dinosaurs
Count to Ten?
by Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Mark Teague

Ten Little Monkeys
Jumping on the Bed
Illustrated by Tina Freeman

Counting our Blessings
by Emma Dodd

When the Moon Smiled
by Petr Horacek

Counting with Tiny Cat
by Viviane Schwarz

One was Johnny
by Maurice Sendak

Ten Little Dogs by Ruth Brown

Anno’s Counting Book
by Mitsumasa Anno

Mouse Count
by Ellen Stoll Walsh

One Yellow Sun
by Michael Arndt

Can You Find 12 Busy Bees?
by Gordon Winch
Illustrated by
Patrick Shirvington

One Blue Shoe by Jane Godwin Illustrated by Jane Reiseger

One Gorilla by Anthony Browne

One Keen Koala by Mem Fox Illustrated by Bruce Whatley

Let’s Count Goats! by Mem Fox Illustrated by Jan Thomas

Bear Counts by Karma Wilson Illustrated by Jane Chapman

123 Dream by Kim Krans

Counting Crocodiles
by Judy Sierra
Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand

My Very First Book of Numbers
by Eric Carle

123 of Australian Animals
by Bronwyn Bancroft

Alfie’s Numbers
by Shirley Hughes

Lynley Dodd: The Nickle Nackle Tree

Illustrated by the author

Published by Penguin Random House, New Zealand, 2016

You might be more familiar with Lynley Dodd’s wonderful series of picture books about that most loveable shaggy dog called Hairy Maclary and equally adventurous and mischievous cat Slinky Malinki, but here is another sort of tale that involves neither four-legged creature.

The Nickle Nackle Tree can be found in the Manglemunching Forest, it’s full of berries that are as red as red can be and a jumbly jam of birds. How delightful it is to read those rhythmic, opening lines and then discover a whole host of other birds with weird and wonderful names. Have you seen a Ballyhoo bird? What about the Tittle Tattle birds? Or the haughty Huffpuff birds? The colourful, bright illustrations match the descriptive names too, the grouchy Grudge birds don’t look happy at all with their purple feathers, red hawk-nosed beaks and grumpy eyes.

Listening recently to a podcast called The Stubborn Light of Things by Melissa Harrison, author and naturalist, she describes the arrival of the tiny chiffchaff birds to the gentle Suffolk countryside. I had never heard of the chiffchaff bird and looked it up, as one can, on the internet. Not only could I see it, but I could also play the unique song it chirrups and learn about its long migration from Africa.

Lynley Dodd’s whimsically descriptive names for the birds in her picture book brought the chiffchaff bird to mind and made me smile to think that it could also have been included, scratching, itching, and chafing after its long flight!

Other authors like Roald Dahl, Edward Lear, and Dr Seuss have written books and verse with made-up nonsense words. The sound of silly words, the chanting of nonsense rhymes, the conviviality of sharing a secret language, can make a lasting impression on young readers.

I can highly recommend The Nickle Nackle Tree for children 3-8 years, they will love it and learn to count at the same time! Below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the silly side of language:

There’s a Wocket in My Pocket
by Dr Seuss

Michael Rosen’s Book of Nonsense by Michael Rosen Illustrated by Claire Mackie

Froodle by Antoinette Portis

The Owl and the Pussycat and other nonsense verse
by Edward Lear
Illustrated by Robert Ingpen

The Quangle Wangle’s Hat
by Edward Lear
Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

The Bippolo Seed and other Lost Stories by Dr Seuss

Yertle the Turtle and other stories by Dr Seuss

Mog in the Dark by Judith Kerr

I Had Trouble in getting to Solla Sollew by Dr Seuss

The Roald Dahl Treasury
by Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake

Alice in Wonderland
Retold by Jane Werner Illustrated by
Walt Disney Studio

Fungus the Bogeyman
by Raymond Briggs

Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook
by Shel Silverstein

How Do You Wokka-Wokka?
by Elizabeth Bleumle
Illustrated by Randy Cecil

Flip Flap Dinosaurs
by Axel Scheffler

A Children’s Treasury of Milligan by Spike Milligan

Alpha Bugs by David Carter

The Smeds and the Smoos
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Art of Words
by Robert Vescio
Illustrated by Joanna Bartel

Julia Donaldson: Counting Creatures

Illustrated by Sharon King-Chai

Published by Two Hoots, Pan Macmillan, 2020

This is a glorious picture book. There are so many ways to enjoy it, there are so many things you can learn from it, there is so much to visually feast upon.

From the first page and first flap, we are drawn into a magical world of flora and fauna, created from paint, ink, leaves, sticks, fruit, vegetables, collage and Photoshop.

It’s a counting and rhyming book, beginning with a mother bat and her one baby and the constant question, “Who has more babies than that?”

It’s an information book, did you know that owls have babies called owlets? And do you know the names of all the creatures featured?

It’s an interactive book, every page has at least one flap and sometimes more, opening up to the side, or down or up the page. There are also smaller cut-outs that you can use to peek through to the next page or look back at the page you have just turned.

It’s a seek-and-find book, where are all those little spiderlings that you missed when you read the book for the first time?

A companion to Animalphabet, also written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Sharon King-Chai, these are treasure books that could be read again and again.

I highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below I have more of my favorite stories by Julia Donaldson, and one of my favourite poems written by her:

Illustrated by Sharon King-Chai

The Gruffalo
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Gruffalo’s Child
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Stick Man
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

A Squash and a Squeeze
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Where’s My Mom?
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Paper Dolls
Illustrated by Rebecca Cobb

The Ugly Five
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Smeds and the Smoos Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Magic Paintbrush
Illustrated by Joel Stewart

The Further Adventures of The Owl and the Pussy-cat
Illustrated by Charlotte Voake

The Everywhere Bear
Illustrated by Rebecca Cobb

Night Monkey Day Monkey Illustrated by Lucy Richards

The Go-Away Bird
Illustrated by Catherine Rayner

The Detective Dog
Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

The Hospital Dog
Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Room on the Broom
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Snail and the Whale
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

I Opened A Book….

I opened a book and in I strode
Now nobody can find me.
I’ve left my chair, my house, my road,
My town and my world behind me.

I’m wearing the cloak, I’ve slipped on the ring,
I’ve swallowed the magic potion.
I’ve fought with a dragon, dined with a king
And dived in a bottomless ocean.

I opened a book and made some friends.
I shared their tears and laughter
And followed their road with its bumps and bends
To the happily ever after.

I finished my book and out I came.
The cloak can no longer hide me.
My chair and my house are just the same,
But I have a book inside me.

From Crazy Mayonnaisy Mum, first published 2004 by Macmillan Children’s Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers International Limited. Text copyright © Julia Donaldson 2004

Hollis Kurman: Hello! A Counting Book of Kindnesses

Illustrated by Barroux

Published by Otter-Barry Books, Great Britain, 2020

I really love the profound simplicity of this picture book. It reminds me of that old acronym KISS…Keep It Simple Stupid. How often do we find ourselves tied up in knots over difficult issues and delicate emotions? Sometimes we just need to peel back the layers of heavy expectations, cultural norms and complex legalities. Sometimes we just need to be human, show empathy, put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, try to imagine what their journey is like and be kind.

On one level, this picture book is a counting journey, exploring how numbers can be found in everyone’s everyday life and that is a simple connection we all share and experience, despite religion, culture or geography.

On another level, this picture book is a poetic unravelling of how kindness works, reminding and teaching us processes that we may have forgotten, infrequently practised or never been taught.

It starts with a family fleeing their homeland because it has become too scary to live there anymore. Starting with one boat, we follow their journey across the seas and into a new land, relying on the kindness of strangers and friends to help them adapt to a new life.

Meals provide sustenance and give energy, beds allow rest and warmth, books are the gateway to learning and knowledge, gifts suggest that you are in someone’s thoughts and speak of generous hearts, and finally friendship…sharing a journey is so much better when you add others to your life.

The evocative illustrations beautifully enhance the sparse text and at the end we are encouraged to reflect on how we can be kind to one another and to realise there are many millions of children who have become refugees, running away from war and persecution. On the end paper at the back of the picture book, there are the names and contact details of organisations that help refugees and migrants.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years, and below I have included more suggestions about picture books which explore the themes of empathy and kindness:

We’re All Wonders by R.J.Palacio

I Am Human by Susan Verde Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Four Feet, Two Sandals
by Karen Lynn Williams
and Khadra Mohammed Illustrated by Doug Chayka

My Name is Not Refugee
by Kate Milner

Words Are Not for Hurting
by Elizabeth Verdick
Illustrated by Marieka Heinlen

Dogger by Shirley Hughes

Malala’s Magic Pencil
by Malala Yousafzai
Illustrated by Kerascoet

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

Last Stop on Market Street
by Matt De La Pena
Illustrated by Christian Robinson

The Day War Came
by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Rebecca Cobb

Yaffa and Fatima: Shalom, Salaam by Fawzia Gilani-Williams Illustrated by Chiara Fedele

I’m (almost) Always Kind
by Anna Milbourne
Illustrated by Asa Gilland

The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham & Karim Shamsi-Basha Illustrated by Yuko Shimizu

Kate Read: One Fox, A Counting Book Thriller

Illustrated by the author

Published by Two Hoots, Pan Macmillan, 2019

Every now and then a picture book comes along that ticks all the boxes for storyline entertainment, short word count, gorgeous illustrations and playful ending. One Fox by Kate Read embraces all these elements in a very clever counting book drama.

Beginning with one famished fox who has two sly eyes, we count on to three plump chickens and the inevitable chase that has gone on between these two adversaries for centuries. What makes this picture book remarkable is that the story becomes suspenseful with so few words and is complete by the time you count from one to ten! The illustrations match and enhance the text and, by the end, we are almost sure that the fox will have his way with those plump and now very frantic chickens. But there is a surprise after we see fox’s 10 sharp teeth. I won’t spoil the very satisfying ending, because you will just have to read it….and then you will close the book with a smile.

I can highly recommend this book for children 2-4 years and below are more suggestions for picture books that feature foxes and all the mischief they get themselves into:

Fox’s Socks by Julia Donaldson Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Hello, Red Fox by Eric Carle

Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin

The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck
by Beatrix Potter

That is NOT a Good Idea!
by Mo Willems

Hattie and the Fox by Mem Fox Illustrated by Patricia Mullins

The Gingerbread Boy
by Paul Galdone

Fox and Feathers by Narelle Oliver

Fox in Socks by Dr Seuss

Fox and Hen Together
by Beatrice Rodriguez

A Good Day by Kevin Henkes

Moira Court: Antarctica

Illustrated by the author

Published by Fremantle Press, WA, 2019

“I seemed to vow to myself that some day I would go to the region of ice and snow and go on and on till I came to one of the poles of the earth, the end of the axis upon which this great round ball turns.” (Ernest Shackleton)

It’s quite sobering to think that we live on a great ball in the sky, but equally remarkable that people have ventured to its far-flung axes. Shackleton was in the deep cold south searching for the pole more than one hundred years ago and knighted for his exploratory adventures on his return home. Whilst I will most likely remain unknighted in my lifetime, there are other ways to travel and learn about our freezing polar regions and feel honour-bound in the process.

Moira Court has authored and illustrated a simple yet evocative counting journey through the icy cold world of Antarctica. Using a mixture of printmaking techniques and collage we are introduced to ten creatures who thrive and endure in the freezing south. The language used is rich in imagery and I particularly like the double adjectives in every sentence. These adjectives rhyme as well and add a gentle humour to the animals portrayed. Can you just imagine “two courtly, portly emperor penguins waddling across the polar plains”? We are also introduced to orcas, whales, elephant seals, krill and snow petrels and you can learn more about them at the end of the book.

There is also a double spread with information about the South Pole itself. I did not know that there is more than one pole! My favourites are the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility and the Southern Pole of Cold, and not forgetting the Ceremonial South Pole, around which scientists have been known to scamper whilst only clad in a pair of shoes!

I can highly recommend this book for children 2-8 years. Here are more suggestions for picture books that explore the coldest places on earth, with a bias towards penguins, because who can resist them?

Sophie Scott Goes South
by Alison Lester
Mum for Sale
by Zanni Louise
Illustrated by
Philip Bunting
Lost and Found by
Oliver Jeffers
Penguin Problems
by Jory John
Illustrated by Lane Smith
The Emperor’s Egg by
Martin Jenkins
Illustrated by
Jane Chapman
When Grandad Was a Penguin
by Morag Hood
Penguin by Polly Dunbar