September 13, 2007


Goodnight Moon 123: A Counting Book. By Thacher Hurd, based on the book by Margaret Wise Brown. Pictures by Clement Hurd. HarperCollins. $16.99.

Math Fables Too. By Greg Tang. Illustrated by Taia Morley. Scholastic. $16.99.

      This year marks the 60th anniversary of the wildly popular Goodnight Moon, still one of the gentlest and most thoroughly delightful bedtime books ever written for very young children – newborn to age five. Now Thacher Hurd, son of the illustrator of Margaret Wise Brown’s book, has created an ideal counting book for kids who already know the original work inside-out and will love seeing its illustrations in a new context. Hurd presents elements of his father’s illustrations and pairs them with number-related text taken as closely as possible from Brown’s words. Thus, the book starts with “one quiet old lady whispering hush,” showing the woman in her rocking chair, and then moves to “two little kittens,” “three little bears sitting on chairs,” and so on. The higher numbers vary more from the original than do the lower ones: Brown never put “six bowls of mush” in the room, or “nine red balloons.” But it scarcely matters, since (for example) the bowl of mush is shown exactly as the elder Hurd originally drew it – but six times. This book can become an enjoyable game for parents and young children: go back and forth between the counting book and the original Goodnight Moon, seeing which things really were in the room and which show up in larger numbers in the counting book. Attaching the beauty and simplicity of Goodnight Moon to basic numbers may help young children see that arithmetic can be beautiful and simple, too.

      Greg Tang takes a different, equally valid and equally enjoyable view of numbers for slightly older children, ages 3-6. His Math Fables is a classic of its kind, and his new Math Fables Too follows in the earlier book’s footsteps (do books have footsteps?). Tang’s books offer instruction in mathematics and more: “3 dolphins started foraging/ along the ocean floor./ But stonefish hiding in the sand/ soon made their noses sore,” he writes, explaining in the next rhyme that stonefish have painful stings and are very well camouflaged – thus teaching numbers and marine biology within just a few lines. Tang’s work deals with number groups as well as the numbers themselves, and Taia Morley’s illustrations help make this clear. For example, Tang’s poem about “4 herons” explains how herons lure fish with bait; specifically, “3 herons used a feather and/ another 1 a twig,” which is just what Morley shows. Among the other animals here are koalas, bats, whales, and even Egyptian vultures: eight of them (variously grouped as 4 and 4, 5 and 3, 1 and 7, and 6 and 2) attempt to open ostrich eggs by throwing stones at them – something these birds actually do. Tang’s books are special because they not only teach math but also put it in a real-world context and give interesting information about non-mathematical subjects as well. Math Fables Too is the eighth Tang math book and, like the original Math Fables, can be an excellent point of entry to a series that eventually takes kids all the way to problem-solving and multiplication – and up to age 13.

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