CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 1. . . .September 9, 2016
Counting With Barefoot Critters.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2016.
32 pp., hardcover & epub, $19.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-101-91771-8 (hc.), ISBN 978-101-91773-2 (epub).
Preschool-grade 1 / Ages 3-6.
Review by Ellen Wu.
A quiet day reading is perfect for one.
Books take you to everywhere under the sun.
But when the story is over you might start to feel blue
And realize your day would be better with...
Pancakes are more fun to make as a pair.
They taste so much better when we can share.
Once our bellies are full, we are finally free
To go play outside in a small group of...
To accompany 2014's Adventures with Barefoot Critters: An ABC Book, is the delightful addition of Counting with Barefoot Critters. Teagan White's playful, whimsical illustrations of anthropomorphized woodland animals and gentle rhymes are a perfect combination. There is a slightly faded feel to the gouache and watercolour palette which is not overly bright, adding to the vintage-y charm of the tale.
The endpapers include a map numbering 12 spots visited by the critters in the world, everywhere from the apple orchard to the treehouse, the sailboat on the pier and the campfire glade. Young readers will probably insist on flipping back and forth to this map to see where, in relation to each other, each successive adventure takes place.
The story begins with one cozy grey fox sipping tea while snuggling in her armchair with a book. Readers then follow her adventures when she grows tired of reading, and her friend, a red fox, joins her for a pancake breakfast. Once their "bellies are full", the pair are joined by a deer to ford streams and climb trees. More unlikely creatures, such as an armadillo, a rhinoceros, a bat, and a crocodile, join the crew with each page turn, but all the animals get along beautifully in this arcadian idyll where cooperation and joyful brio sweeten each activity.
Jaunty, rollicking quatrains of two couplets are perfect for reading out loud, and children will enjoy keeping track of which new animal joins the group next, and they will count along with the grown-upís reading. Each spread irresistibly leads to the next, as the last line of each verse isn't complete until readers turn to the page and find the next number. In case a young reader gets stuck and needs a little prompting, the end rhymes also act as hints to the next number. While there are one or two clunkier verses, the peerless illustrations lift the story overall.
Parents and teachers alike may appreciate that all the activities the critters embark on, not surprisingly, take place outdoors. Healthful suggestions from cycling to sailing, swimming to playing in a fort, provide refreshing variety in a busy day for the critters. More observant youngsters may also enjoy the wardrobe changes that occur from spread to spread, and they will likely provide names and backstories for all the critters. Since White provides a visual feast for each spread, repeated visits to the book will still yield new treats for the reader (such as the accompanying tinier animals not part of the actual tale).
Counting with Barefoot Critters follows a timeless formula that never fails to captivate a young audience, and the story charms with its simplicity. It is particularly suited as a bedtime counting tale. The story ends with the retinue of animals trooping home on a mellow, star-strewn night. Readers once again enter the grey fox's home as, under a homespun quilt, she scribbles in her journal of the happy memories made. Children learning to count will certainly also look back upon this book with fond memories.
Ellen Wu is teen services librarian at Surrey Libraries, BC.
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