I have sought to build my kids’ preschool education by learning from life and learning from books. One very effective way to do this is through good counting books. Counting books are not only great to learn how to count (obviously!), but also to learn basic math concepts in a non-threatening way.
In this list, I tried to include some simple books that are for the younger child just learning to count and some more involved counting books that are great for older children. These are books that get read over and over in our home.
Animal Orchestra has no story line unless you call starting with one conductor and ending with one orchestra a “story.” It reads 1 conductor, 2 double bases, etc. However, the illustrations are well done making it definitely worth the read. Also, I don’t hesitate to admit that my kids have learned instrument names via this book. The book includes double bases, drums, saxophones, clarinets, flutes, violins, french horns, trumpets, and trombones.
One Lonely Sea Horse is a creative counting book. Each of the sea creatures are created from fruits or vegetables. You have to see it to understand, I think. It also teaches a good lesson on being a friend. Animals included are the sea horse, crabs, puffer fish, lobsters, turtles, dolphins, eels, octopus, mackerel, and angelfish.
Over in the Meadow is a delightful book about mother animals and their babies. Ezra Jack Keats is probably most famously known for his book The Snowy Day. His art does not disappoint in this lovely little counting book. Animals included are the turtle, fish, bluebird, muskrat, honeybee, crow, cricket, lizard, frog, and firefly.
Roar! A Noisy Counting Book is one of the kids’ favorites. The little lion cub tries to make friends by roaring, but of course, every time he roars, the animals run away. Finally, he meets up with 9 other lion clubs that don’t run away. The nice little added feature of addition right at the end of 1 + 9 lion cubs equaling the final number 10 is unique. Animals and colors included are yellow lions, red monkey, pink flamingos, orange warthogs, blue lizards, gray hippos, green crocodiles, black rhinos, and brown gazelles.
1 is One (Caldecott Honor) is a classic counting book. Tasha Tudor’s beautiful watercolor illustrations will take you back a century. Tudor is known for her exquisite paintings of children and nature. While this book doesn’t follow a story line, the read is still very enjoyable. The book goes all the way to twenty which is unusual for counting books, and the numbers are in both numerical and word making it great for the older toddler or beginning reader.
Zin! Zin! Zin A Violin (Caldecott Honor) is a wonderful book. You can bet that this it is going to show up on my list of children’s music books that I’ll be posting in the near future. I wasn’t even going to include it in this list, but it really is a good counting book, so I can’t leave it out. The beautiful descriptions of the instruments along with the rhyme make this a delightful read. Not only does it include the numbers 1-10, but also the musical ensemble words solo, duet, trio, etc. Instruments included are the trombone, trumpet, french horn, cello, violin, flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, and harp. It also divides the instruments into string, brass, and reed instruments. The only problem is that it includes the flute with the reed instruments. The flute is the only woodwind that is not a reed instrument. While I can’t believe the author would make that error, it is still a great, great book. You can’t help loving a book that begins like this: “With mournful moan and silken tone, itself alone comes one trombone.”
Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed is the familiar nursery rhyme about the monkeys jumping on the bed and falling off one by one. This is great to learn counting backwards, and even better to teach basic subtraction principals. Olivia just loves the monkeys, and Stefan has totally figured out subtraction using these and a couple of other counting books. Eileen Christelow has several other “Five Little Monkey” books, so if your child loves this one, you’ll want to check out the other ones as well.
Ten Little Ladybugs is another one great for subtraction. This reads like a rhyme, has lots of repeating lines, and is a fun little story to read. For the preschooler it serves as a great subtraction book, but since we have the touch and feel version it is also great for Silas as well. Another book with a similar rhyme is Five Little Ducklings. It has also been greatly enjoyed by all our kids since Stefan was a baby. While you may not think about it, reading backwards counting books to your kids really prepares them for the concept of subtraction, so don’t leave these ones out!
Do you have a Richard Scarry fan? If so you will definitely want to check out The Best Counting Book Ever. Be prepared to sit for a long time with this one, though, as it counts all the way to 100! Richard Scarry has a unique style that definitely captivates children. (We also love his game.) There is so much detail in his illustrations that you will never bore of looking at it. This is a perfect book for a kindergartner learning to count to 100. It also has a lot of built in math. Again, Stefan has learned some pretty decent math concepts with this book. Instead of just going from 1 – 20 in a typical way, it is always something like 5 burned pies and 3 good pies (for the number 8). After 20 each page progresses by 10s up to one hundred. The format of the illustrations allows you to count by 1s, 5s, or 10s very easily. At the end he has some simple math equations with the illustrations so your child can get a first glimpse of what a math problem looks like, but he can answer it easily because it is directly from the book. This is another one that would be worth owning as it covers so many math concepts.
Last, but most definitely not least is The Water Hole by Graeme Base. If you are not familiar with Graeme Base books, you need to be. They are some of the most beautiful, interesting, and clever illustrations around. I bought this book sight unseen because our library didn’t have a copy. We love his Animalia book, though, so I took a guess that we would love this one too. I was not disappointed. This was money well spent, and a book we will enjoy for years. Frankly, while technically a counting book, this could easily be a coffee table book. The illustrations are that good. The text/story is not great. But honestly, you will be so immediately taken in with the art it won’t matter. The book starts out with one animal and goes up to 10 meeting at the water hole. Fairly typical except that he adds in a lot of fun twists. As the animals increase, the water hole is getting smaller. Also, there are 10 funny frogs on the ‘1’ page. Each page, the frogs are diminishing by one. So by the time you get to the final number 10 you have 10 Kangaroos, only 1 frog, and no water. All the animals leave. Then it rains (with some creative artwork that you’ll have to see!), and all the animals come back. The final page has the exact number of each of the animals from their corresponding page, and all ten frogs. I have yet to find all ten frogs though. But no, that isn’t all. On each page there are 10 very hidden animals. None of them repeat. Animals included are a rhino, tigers, toucans, snow leopards, moose, catfish, pandas, ladybugs, tortoises, and kangaroos. And of course the crazy little frogs, and over 100 other animals hidden throughout the book. This is a book to look at over and over. The best part? This book is as fun for Brian and me as it is for Stefan! The whole family gives this one a big thumbs up!
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