None the Number – a counting adventure

Oh, picture books! I really do love them! They give children so, so much… and then they just keep on giving.

In my recent post about learning to read I begged parents/carers not to leave picture books behind when children are learning to read – or when they can read independently. Picture books still have so much to give children and aren’t only for the 3-5 age range that they are often slotted into. They are created by writers and illustrators at the top of their game. They expose children to world class art and language. They encourage their minds to open and question and explore. These are skills that will set children up for life.

I often write posts about picture books that give children something more. Something different. In addition, I’m going to start a semi-regular feature of picture books that stretch the genre and work beautifully for children learning to read or already reading. For children who are at the stage where they are told they should be ‘moving on’ from picture books – as if picture books are only an introductory tool to real reading. NoNoNoNo!

These books will stretch children, give them a new way of seeing something, prompt them to stop and think and question. They will build on all those wonderful skills that their early picture books have taught them and stretch them further. Think of these books as the picture book gifted and talented programme.

My first example is this gem:

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None the Number – A Counting Adventure is not your average counting book. It doesn’t deliver the numbers 1 to 10 with sweet pictures of animals that can be neatly grouped and gently counted. Instead it questions the way counting books work and the way we count objects. It encourages children to think and question things for themselves. And of course, being authored by Oliver Jeffers, it does so in a very funny way.

None the Number introduces the concept of none, or zero, as a number through the Hueys. Written as conversation, one Huey is explaining the concept to another, who is finding it somewhat tricky to grasp. I like the neutrality of these characters. Beautifully simple and yet full of character and expression.

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“Is none a number?” asks white Huey. “Of course,” says Huey Blue who proceeds to count objects up to 10 before taking them all away to demonstrate the concept of none as a number.

I love the quirky and often very funny objects that readers are given to count. My personal favourites are ‘Four. That’s how many tantrums Kevin throws every day.’ And seven:

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The addition of handwritten text -an Oliver Jeffers special- offers a challenge for independent readers as well as working beautifully towards the design of the book.

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At the end of the book White Huey is still confused. But children won’t be. They can laugh at White Huey’s inability to grasp the concept and position themselves with Huey Blue. The use of conversational writing here is a clever approach that allows children to act out the book and take on the roles of the characters, enabling them to ‘be’ Huey Blue and read the book from a position of knowledge. Deceptively simple, hugely effective.

So is this one of those picture books that has been created for adults, with Pixar style humour to entertain the adult reader as they read a book for the ninetieth time? No, I don’t think so. Mollie has just turned five and she loves the humour in this book. She particularly enjoys reading the handwritten speech and doing the voices. The book involves her and entertains her. It has made her think and the facts about zero on the endpapers have prompted some great discussions. This is a great example of a book that works across ages. With design and language that is simple enough for young children to find lots to love and lots to point out, it has enough depth and humour to entertain older children and encourage them to question and wonder. It’s also a beauty for the adults trying to get a look in over the children’s shoulders!

If you like this book, try Drew Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Quit which includes pages of handwritten letters for children to read, a lot of advanced language and ideas and a highly original concept that will get children thinking and questioning and looking at the crayons they have taken for granted through new eyes.

Source: kindly sent for review by HarperCollins Children’s Books.

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