So many books. So little time.
Can Math and whimsy go together in a book? Yes, if the book is Counting Crows by Kathy Appelt. Noisy crows, hungry crows, fashionable crows gather in threes (do you get the math reference?)
These crows are doing what crows do: swinging from the branches, building nests, resting on the power lines that dot a landscape, and they are doing all this in threes. Safety in numbers? Or a reminder that crows are social creatures. Their large communal roosts often number in the thousands.
Why did the author choose crows over other birds? Alliteration apart, it could also be a nod to the commonly held belief that crows have ‘number sense’. There is the story of a farmer bothered by a crow eating his crop. “Just you wait,” says the farmer, “I’ll get you crow.” He instructs two hunters to hide in a hut, and only one of them to make a noisy exit. The crow is not fooled.
Two had gone in but only one comes out? The farmer increases the number of hunters, the crow figures out that the arrrivals and departures do not match. In this particular version of the story, (New York Times article), the crow counted correctly up to four, but was defeated when five hunters hid in the hut. Scientists are still debating whether this is pattern recognition, or a true number sense
But back to the book, and the author’s sly incorporation of numbers and counting. Not only do readers count the crows but also the snacks that the birds are chomping on. Three roly poly bugs, six salty peanuts, nine little spicy ants: the snacks increase by three. Till we reach the number nine. Then we count ten, then eleven, then twelve. A round dozen. The crows caw and cackle, eat and grackle. Until…into this paradise danger arrives—one cat who counts the twelve crow tails and dreams of a feast.
Three-by-three the crows leave the tree. Aloha, adios and goodbye. One dozen counting crows take to the sky. One cat on the bench says “Bye, crows, bye!”
Words tell the story, pictures embellish it. Robert Dunlavey is the kind of illustrator you hope would illustrate your book (when you write one). How can you illustrate such a simple story effectively? Well, look at the book. The illustrator chooses just a three-color palette: white, black and red on a clean white page. The stylised crows stand out, but wait. There is style on style: red and white striped shirts on all but one crow. He—the fashion maven—adorns his neck with a polka-dot scarf!
Counting the snacks is almost a game in itself, for the illustrator creates double-page spreads and scatters the food across both pages. And ends the book with a gift to the hungry cat who could not catch a crow: the wonderful red polka-dot scarf now adorns her neck.
A wonderful cross-subject book that all young readers will enjoy.