ABC, It's Easy as 123... concept books

A Notes from the Windowsill annotated bibliography by Wendy E. Betts. Copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

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Last Updated 03/24/10

Hello! Good-bye! written and illustrated by Aliki. Greenwillow, 1996 (0-688-14333-4) $15.00

"Hello" and "Good-bye" seem like very ordinary words, but as this book shows, each can be meaningful in many different ways. As the text makes simple comments, small, colorful watercolor and colored pencil illustrations depict some of the many meanings of the words and the many different ways they can be said. The appropriate age level for this book is a little uncertain; readers should be prepared for some of the concepts to be confusing for young listeners--particularly the much too metaphorical "good-bye that lasts forever," illustrated by two children gazing sadly at an empty rocking chair, incongruously set in the middle of a meadow. (2-6)

The Baker's Dozen written and illustrated by Dan Andreasen. Henry Holt, 2007 (978-0-8050-7809-1) $16.95

I was drawn to the cover of this book, an apple-cheeked-and-chinned baker exuberantly juggling cupcakes. He just looks so darn happy about it. And happiness continues to be the theme throughout, as the baker takes "great care to make one cream eclair," "in the oven bakes two German chocolate cakes," and "in tins the perfect size bakes three cherry pies," all the while loving his job with all his heart. No, the rhyming text is not particularly scintillating, but it's adequate. There are a few cute visual touches here, like the baker's smiling chef-hatted clock, which beams and occasionally licks its lips, but the main point of the pictures is the baker's joy as he creates and dallies with his sweet treats, from the one eclair to the twelve small cupcakes he juggles. Thirteen is the number of customers he greets, and a chart at the end of the book shows the progression of the numbers, from the one eclair, to thirteen eager little boys. Fun for anyone who knows how to truly appreciate food. (2-6)

Bat Jamboree by Kathi Appelt. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Morrow, 1996 (0-688-13882-9) $16.00; Mulberry, 1998 (0-688-16167-7) $4.95 pb

After reading Bat Jamboree, I found it hard to remember that it was a brand new book: it had so much of the feeling of an old favorite. Readers and listeners of all ages will love this funny and dramatic description of the stupendous Bat Jamboree, in which 55 bats perform: "1 bat sang. 2 bats flapped. 3 bats cha-cha-ed. 4 bats tapped." After counting up to ten and down again, the show ends when--of course--"the bat lady sings." Appelt's rhyming text is playful and captivating and Sweet's pictures combine her usual winsome appeal with just the right, light touch of spooky battiness. The performer's costumes are especially fun, with the bats who "flapped" wearing 1920's duds and the bats who "tapped" in sailor suits; kids won't get all the jokes, but they'll enjoy the variety. A terrific book, for Halloween or any time. (3 & up)

Bats on Parade by Kathi Appelt. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Morrow, 1999 (0-688-15665-7) $16.00

In Bat Jamboree (see above), performing bats brought delicious drama to the simple act of counting. This follow-up goes a step further, using a marching band of bats to demonstrate multiplication squares: piccolo playing bats march in two rows of two, flute playing bats come in three by three. Appelt's crisp rhymes make the relationships between the numbers entertainingly clear, but the book loses some of the zany appeal of its predecessor by having all the marching band bats wearing the same outfits; a few parade floats at the beginning, showing jazzy bats from New Orleans and a lasso twirling bat from El Paso, only remind us of how delightful Sweet's theatrical themes can be. Still, the diligently playing bats are appealing. (4-8)

Mouse Letters; Mouse Numbers illustrated by Jim Arnosky. Clarion, 1999 (0-395-55386-5; 0-395-55006-8) $4.95

An all-too-human mouse takes readers on hilarious adventures with numbers and letters in these captivating concept books. In Mouse Letters, he doggedly creates the entire alphabet out of sticks, despite misadventures with a collapsing K and a top-heavy T. Mouse Numbers takes him over 2 hills, jumping across 3 rocks, giving off 4 beads of sweat--and face-to- face with a shark's 10 sharp teeth, which sends him scurrying back the way he came. Arnosky originally created these books for his daughter, and they do have a very personal feel to them: they're small, wordless, and have just one expressive character to identify with. Unlike most other wordless concept books, they are also perfectly complete stories, hooking the reader with the humor and inventiveness of their narrative flow: when the mouse flies off the T, he falls on a stick stretched across a ravine, creating a U shape; hanging from the end, he pulls it into a V. Ideal for children who aren't reading yet, these books create a private little world that's perfect for solitary enjoyment. (2-6)

Mouse Colors; Mouse Shapes illustrated by Jim Arnosky. Clarion, 2001 (0-618-01521-3; 0-618-01522-1) $5.95 ea.

The plucky and inventive mouse of Mouse Letters and Mouse Numbers is back, once again eloquently demonstrating concepts without speaking a word. Whether he's falling from his paint cans and unexpectedly mixing the color green or stylishly spinning a square in the air to turn it into a diamond, the intrepid mouse always triumphs. Very clever and fun. (3-8)

Big Fat Hen written and illustrated by Keith Baker. Harcourt Brace, 1994 (0-15-292869-3) $13.95

Despite a deceptively simple text, this counting book seems likely to confuse beginners and might be a challenge even for advanced counters. The vibrant acrylic illustrations of the old nursery rhyme, "one two, buckle my shoe," are entertaining, showing different numbers of chicks buckling a shoe, shutting the door, and so on, but the representation of numbers throughout the book is extremely unclear and hard to follow. (3-6)

Quack and Count written and illustrated by Keith Baker. 1999; Voyager, 2004 (0-15-205025-6) $6.00 pb

This cleverly crafted story conveys basic but vitally important mathematical concepts through a simple, gayly rhyming story. The illustrations use textures and attractive natural hues to show seven ducklings (6 plus 1, 5 plus 2, etc.) in various natural settings. (2-5)

Animalia written and illustrated by Graeme Base. 1986; Puffin, 1996 (0-14-055996-5) $6.99 pb

Most people who have anything to do with children will be familiar with at least the cover of this book; I've seen it for sale as a poster any number of times. I had no idea though, just from the attractive cover, how incredible the actual book is. Each meticulously crafted illustration brings a distinct, fantastic world to life; each picture is a one of a kind work of art. The alphabet, as you might guess from the title, is based on animals: for each letter, there's a description of a scene, and a gorgeous and crowded picture filled with odd and amusing images beginning with that letter.

Everything in the pictures relates to the letters, even to vegetation and objects in people's pockets: the more you look, the more you see. Naturally, my favorite scene was "Lazy Lions Lounging in the Local Library," which shows one lion enjoying a biography of Leonardo da Vinci while another devours (literally) Lassie Come Home. * (4 & up)

One Moose, Twenty Mice written and illustrated by Clare Beaton. Barefoot Books, 1999 (1-902283-37-6); 2000 (1-841481-29-7) $6.99 pb; 2000 (1-841482-85-4) $6.99 board

Readers can sharpen both their counting skills and their identification skills as they pour over this eye-catching book. Each page features brightly colored cloth animals, vividly decorated with thread and buttons in contrasting colors; each page also features just one small piece of an orange cat to find. The exciting colors and textures on each page make counting interesting and the slyly hiding cat adds a touch of wit, peeking out from the bottom hole of an 8 and running, bristly-tailed, ahead of a pack of 14 dogs. (2-6)

How Many Elephants? by Selby Beller. Illustrated by Barney Saltzberg. Candlewick, 2004 (0-7636-1583-8) $9.99

"Let's count things. How many elephants are in your closet?" this book starts off. To which a child responds, "That's silly. Elephants don't go in people's closets." And sure enough, when you lift the flap to see inside the closet, there are 0 elephants. But as you count your way through the book, finding one paintbrush under a rug, two shoes behind the curtain and all the way up to ten, it's hard not to notice first one, than another, than another elephant sneaking into the child's closet. At the end, the book asks "How many elephants are in your closet now?" and again the child says, "There are no elephants. Look for yourself." But will the child be surprised when the door is opened--or will the reader? Goofy watercolors with lots of variety and imaginative touches make this very entertaining, still worth a read-aloud even when the pull-flaps inevitably hit the dust. (2-6)

The A to Z Beastly Jamboree written and illustrated by Robert Bender. Lodestar, 1996 (0-525-67520-5) $14.99; Puffin, 1999 (0-14-056213-3) $5.99 pb

Dark backgrounds, illuminated by glowing, brilliant colors, create a rich, eye-catching look for this humorous alphabet. Each letter is associated with a simple phrase, in which animals do something rather unusual; the illustration shows the animals interacting with the letter itself. I especially liked "Narwhals needle," which showed several Narwhals sticking their horns through a letter N. Each picture is strikingly framed by a line of animals: observant readers will notice that the frame changes in two ways with each letter, so what started as a rectangle of just ants ends as one that shows every animal from ant to zebra. A fun, very attractive book. (2-8)

Dragon Naps by Lynne Betrand. Illustrated by Janet Street. Viking, 1996 (0-670-85403-4) $14.99

"One day, two dragons' mothers said these three words: "Time for naps." The two dragons hate napping, but they dutifully go upstairs, to pass the time as best they can, including thinking of twelve places they'd like to go on vacation, thirteen things they'd buy (including beds with escape hatches), and fourteen things they can't stand (naps are number 13). It's not really a counting book and the mildly subversive humor of this story can be enjoyed for its own sake, but readers learning number progressions will also enjoy the clever construction of the text. Street's witty pictures match the wry tone of the text, capturing the painful boredom of the dragons without becoming boring themselves; in a funny twist on traditional counting book style, each page which includes a written number also shows the numeral in an appropriate place in the illustrations--a fifteen watt light bulb, for example. (3-8)

Mother Goose Math illustrated by Emily Bolam. Viking, 1997 (0-670-87569-4) $14.99; Puffin, 1999 (0-14-056393-8) $5.99 pb

A different sort of nursery rhyme book, Mother Goose Math focuses on rhymes about numbers, finding all sorts of odd things that are worth counting. Some of the rhymes, like "sing a song of sixpence," are familiar, but many will be new to readers, offering a memorably rhythmic introduction to numbers and counting. The illustrations are also rather novel: brisk, slapdash pictures in bright, contrasting colors, which are frequently framed with what looks like finger-paintings. Most of the pictures eschew the standard, old-fashioned, pictorial themes for a more everyday, familiar look. (2-6)

An Alphabet of Animals written and illustrated by Isabelle Brent. Little, Brown, 1993 (0-316-10852-9)

This small, gorgeously illustrated book is meant more for art-lovers than for children or naturalists; even the type-setting is arranged for visual effect rather than easy reading. The factual text is merely a sideline to the exquisitely drawn and colored paintings of animals, illuminated with gold. Not a good choice for reading aloud, but children may enjoy reading about the animals while appreciating the pictures. (8 & up)

Frogs Jump by Alan Brooks. Illustrated by Steven Kellogg. Scholastic, 1996 (0-590-45528-1) $15.95; 1999 (0-590-45529-X) $6.99 pb

Books illustrated by Steven Kellog are always wildly fun and inventive, but he may be hard pressed to top himself after this one. The story begins in pictures long before we get to the first page, showing two children meeting up with an unusual frog and his even more unusual hat. As the text begins, we learn that "one frog jumps," "two ducks dive," "three elephants trumpet" and so on--but the ducks that come out of the magic hat are diving off a board, and the elephants are trumpeting with real instruments. The silly puns continue, with the pictures getting more and more crowded and absurd, until the hat produces twelve whales blowing soap bubbles--at which point the children exclaim "What? Whales don't blow soap bubbles!" The frog sees their point, so he counts back down from twelve to one, removing the incongruous bubble pipes, trumpets and so forth by swallowing them--until he's so big, he can JUMP past the moon. A deliciously funny blend of text and pictures, this book's only flaw is the rather unattractive drawings of the three main character; if you're not fond of Kellogg's exaggerated comic style already, this probably won't be the book that converts you. Most fans, though, will find it one of his very best, and an utterly delightful way to practice counting. (3-8)

Sleepy ABC by Margaret Wise Brown. Illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina. Lothrop, 1953; HarperCollins, 1994 (0-06-024284-1) $16.99

Just what the title suggests, this is a gentle ABC lullaby, told in soothing rhyme. Muted illustrations inspired by patchwork-quilting tecniques convey great tenderness, as kittens yawn, lambs close their eyes, and a mother lovingly kisses her child goodnight. (2-4)

Alphabet Times Four by Ruth Brown. Dutton, 1991 (0-525-44831-4) OP

More than just an attractive multilingual alphabet, this book will have thoughtful readers intrigued by the connections between languages. For each letter of the alphabet, a lovely watercolor painting illustrates a noun: my favorites are the very hard-to-find chameleon and the x-rayed hands playing an x-rayed xylophone. Underneath the picture, the noun is shown in English, Spanish, French and German, with a pronunciation guide throughtfully underneath. What makes this so interesting is that the words have been carefully chosen to show the similarities between the languages: jaguar and kiwi, for example, are exactly the same word in all four (except that they are capitalized in German.) Other nouns, such as the beginning word ark, have more differences but are still recognizably related: arca, arche, Arche. This book has so much to offer, I'm stunned it's out of print. * (3 & up)

One Little Teddy Bear written and illustrated by Mark Burgess. Viking, 1991; Puffin 1995 (0-14-050837-6) $5.99 pb

Using a variation of the old "ten little Indians" rhyme, this lift-the-flaps book shows one-to-ten little teddy bears as they enjoy a variety of playful activities. As one little teddy bear looks for his shoe, the reader looks "inside the wardrobe" to find that "now there are . . . two." Each page has a different clever flap for the next bear to hide behind; this device is especially nice for children who just starting to master the order of the numbers, since it gives them a chance to answer for themselves. The illustrations are on the bland side: bright and cheerful, but not especially distinctive or expressive. (2-5)

First Steps written and illustrated by John Burningham. Candlewick, 1994 (1-56402-205-6) $14.95

First Steps is intended as an all-in-one concept book, covering letters, numbers, colors and opposites in four separate sections. In the fairly traditional alphabet section, a little boy plays with the representative of each letter, holding a hoop for a (l) lion to jump through and pushing a (q) queen in a wheelbarrow. For numbers, the same little boy climbs a tree and is joined, one by one, by nine other children, who swing gaily from its branches until chased down by a tiger. Colors shows the boy at brilliantly colored play, while the opposites section has him finally ending up in the jaws of an alligator which are first "open" and then "shut."

Although Burningham's airy, effortless style is always attractive, First Steps is not a complete success as a concept book. The relative sophistication of the pictures does not suit the very basic approach to the concepts - particularly on this small scale, with several illustrations crowded on each page. As a first concept book it is too unclear, but it has little to offer an advanced learner. The "opposites" section, though (which does give each pairing a full page), stands out as one of the best I've seen; the difference between "light" and "heavy," for example, simply leaps off the page, as the boy holds a giant balloon with his fingertips and then staggers under the weight of an elephant.

One Gray Mouse by Katherine Burton. Illustrated by Kim Fernandes. Kids Can Press, 1997 (1-55074-225-6) $9.95

A rare use of Fimo, a type of modeling clay, for illustration make this simple introduction to numbers and colors particularly eye-catching. The plump shapes of its animal characters--from one gray mouse in a black mouse house to ten red snails in a gray snail pail--have an almost tangible allure, and the textures created by Fimo are fascinating, especially in the realistic depictions of rocks and cloth. Readers may be too visually distracted at first to notice that that this book also has a little story; the one gray mouse moves stealthily through the pages, taking objects in each of the book's ten colors to decorate his mouse house. This is a book that really should be shared by an adult and a child; there's a lot of opportunities for games that reinforce the concepts. (2-6)

One Little Chickadee by Marilee Robin Burton. Illustrated by Janet Street. Tambourine, 1994 (0-688-12651-0) $15.00

This book has more in common with One Red Rooster (see below) than the similar title: not only is it also a rhyming counting book, but it also a cumulative one, with pictures becoming increasingly crowded and bunches of animals ever more amusingly and creatively grouped. This is a rather more sophisticated approach however, with a longer text, a bit of a plot and some odd, visually demanding pictures. The story is a busy one about noisy baby animals, told in lively rhyme that uses as many words descriptive of sound as possible. The illustrations are less effective: although well designed, with some wonderful crowd scenes, their very emphatic use of lines, patterns and bilious-looking colors give them a heavy, ponderous feel. (3-6)

Dinner at the Panda Palace by Stephanie Calmenson. Illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott. HarperTrophy, 1996 (0-69470-054-1) $7.95 pb and cassette tape

The joint is really jumping at Mr. Panda's restaurant, when a hungry elephant comes in lugging his trunk, two tired lions arrive, happy to shed their royals robes, three pigs dash in trying to lose a wolf and a group of four peacocks walks in with heads held up high. Eventually fifty-five diners fill the Panda Palace--but helpful Mr. Panda can always find room for one more.

Basic counting has rarely been more delightfully reinforced than in this infectiously fun story. The effortlessly rhyming text and lively watercolors build on each other perfectly, offering a wealth of comic details about the customers, who each have an individual and appropriate style of dress and taste in food. This book and cassette package includes a reading by Russell Horton, who does a nice job of giving different voices to each animal. Beginning readers can read along with "turn-the-page" cues or enjoy a plain version on the other side. (3-8)

The Grouchy Ladybug written and illustrated by Eric Carle. 1977; HarperFestival, 1999 (0-694-01320-X) $7.95 board book

The story of a grumpy ladybug who goes looking for a fight and finally finds one, this old favorite plays with far more themes than just manners: little clocks on the pages show the passage of time, and increasingly large die-cut pages depict the ladybug's encounters with increasingly large animals. Both concepts and execution seem a bit overdone to me, but the lavish collage art and bad-tempered protagonist are undeniably appealing, as 22 years of popularity proves. (4-8)

One Red Rooster by Kathleen Sullivan Carroll. Illustrated by Suzette Barbier. Houghton Mifflin, 1992; 1994 (0-395-70090-6)

The combination of an easy rhyming text, lots of familiar animal noises and sharp, brightly colored illustrations makes One Red Rooster an appealing beginner's counting book. For each number, a new group of noisy animals is introduced: "Three blue birds went tweet tweet tweet, four white sheep went bleet bleet bleet." Unlike most counting books however, the pictures show not only the new animals to be counted, but all the previous animals as well, getting entertainingly crowded as the book goes on; the passage of time is also demonstrated, as the sun rises with the one red rooster and sinks with ten pink pigs, who are fast asleep. The bold outlines and basic shapes of the pictures are simple enough to suit young children, yet interesting enough to please adults as well; vividly patterned "frames" around each picture give the feeling of peeping into the scenes. (2-5)

Michelle Cartlidge's Book of Words written and illustrated by Michelle Cartlidge. Dutton, 1994 (0-525-45254-0)

Somewhat in the style of Richard Scarrey's big books, this collection of pictures of busy everyday scenes will provide hours of fun for toddlers and preschoolers. Each illustration shows and labels dozens of common objects, in pastel drawings featuring the winsome mouse family from Mouse Birthday (reviewed volume 2, number 34) and other books. Even in this large book format, Cartlidge knows just how to appeal to a love for things in miniature: her grocery, stuffed with little jars and bins of fruit, and her candy store, well stocked with all sort of tiny goodies, will win the hearts of most viewers. The very simple storyline may conveniently be ignored in favor of naming the objects in the pictures. This is an excellent book for older children to share with their younger siblings; it's also surprisingly inexpensive for such an attractive work. (2-6)

Matthew A.B.C. written and illustrated by Peter Catalanotto. Atheneum, 2002 (0-689-84582-0) $14.95.

All 25 children in Mrs. Tuttle's class are named Matthew, yet she has no trouble telling them apart: from Matthew A. who is extremely affectionate, to Matthew F. who has a cat on his face, to Matthew L. who leaks (yeech!) to Matthew Y who only yodels, all of the boys are distinct personalities. When a new kid arrives, Mrs. Tuttle is happy to see he is exactly what her class needed: a boy named Matthew, covered in zippers.

Brightly colored watercolors illustrate this very friendly, very goofy classroom, giving it a satisfying consistency: volunteering Matthew V. always has his hand up, and Matthew C's cowlick spells out different messages throughout. And Mrs. Tuttle is never seen without Matthew A. clinging to her waist--except on the back cover, where the principal takes over so she can use the bathroom. This combination of sweetness and silliness is irresistible. (3-8)

What am I?: Looking Through Shapes and Apples and Grapes by N.N. Charles. Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Blue Sky/Scholastic, 1994 (0-590-47891-5) $13.95

Teaching colors as well as shapes, What am I? uses simple rhyme and die-cut pages to play an entertaining guessing game. "I'm yellow, I'm thin, you peel my skin. What am I?" ask a page showing a diamond shaped cut-out on a yellow background. Of course, when you turn the page, an appetizing banana appears. One problem with this book is that there's no relationship between the cut-out shapes and the real shapes of the fruit, which makes the juxtapositions of the concepts potentially confusing. It's a neat design though, and the luscious fruit illustrations are mouth-watering. Adding yet another element--a message--the last page promotes the "rainbow of the human race." (3-7)

Handtalk by Remy Charlip and Mary Beth Miller. Illustrated by Remy Charlip. Photographed by George Ancona. Macmillan, 1974 (0-02-718130-8)

I was disappointed when I saw this book was illustrated with photographs, because I so love Charlip's adorable illustrations in books like Sleepytime Rhyme. But these photos are well worth looking at, despite the dated, '70's look of the participants.

Handtalk is an alphabet book that uses two forms of sign language, finger spelling and signs. For each letter, we see a hand forming the letter, hands forming a word that begins with that letter--A=Angel--and for the main part of the spread, a person demonstrating the sign for that same word, in the most appropriate way possible. The woman demonstrating "angel" is decidedly angelic; several pages later we see a devilish D. There are lots of clever touches, like a page with a hand covered in peanut butter opposite a page with a hand covered in jelly: "When you close these pages these hands make the sign for sandwich." Perhaps most interesting of all is the way camera techniques and finger drawings on glass have been used to demonstrate motion when signing--far more effective than the little drawings with arrows most books use. A fascinating book. * (4 & up)

A Is for the Americas by Cynthia Chin-Lee and Terri de la Pena. Illustrated by Enrique O. Sanchez. Orchard, 1999 (0-531-30194-X) $15.95

This informative alphabet shows that there is far more to "America" than just the United States. The entries look at foods, festivals, animals, dances... all kinds of things that make places and cultures unique: Q is for quetzal, a tropical bird found in the highlands of Guatemala; V is for Vodou, a religious and cultural practice in Haiti. Carefully executed, dignified paintings provide a strong feeling of place for each entry. A good resource for teachers. (6-9)

Also available in Spanish: A es para decir Americas (0-531-07134-0) $6.95 pb

Kente Colors by Debbi Chocolate. Illustrated by John Ward. Walker, 1996 (0-8027-8388-0) $15.95; 1997 (0-8027-7528-4) $6.95 pb

In a joyful celebration of the symbolism of colors, this picture book relates the bright, rich colors in West African Kente fabrics to the people, customs and natural beauties of the land of their origin. The text is made up of simple but effective rhymes (or almost-rhymes): "Yellow Kente for pineapples sweet. Sunset Kente red and deep." The illustration are vividly colored paintings, with contrasting Kente patterns as frames. I would have liked more information about Kente fabric than the book provides, but it is an evocative introduction to West African culture.

The Twelve Circus Rings written and illustrated by Seymour Chwast. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993 (0-15-200627-3) $14.95; Voyager, 1996 (0-15-201361-X) $6.00 pb

This book uses the pyramid format of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" to create twelve increasingly busy, colorful and exciting circus rings. The text is a little awkward, but the focus is really on the ever-changing yet highly organized illustrations; even the circus audience shown at the bottom of the pages is intriguingly varied. A section at the back encourages children to use the book for counting practice, and offers some number play suggestions for older readers. (3-8)

The Alphabet Parade by Seymour Chwast. 1991; Harcourt Brace, 1994 (0-15-200115-8) $4.95 pb

A captivating array of animals, floats and circus clowns walk, ride and bicycle across the white pages of this wordless alphabet book. Each section of the parade focuses on a letter of the alphabet, with bizarre floats that celebrate such things as a giant foot for F or a walking telephone for T. The audience, too, reflects the alphabet: a caveman stands in section C, a duck and a dragon look on from section D. The number of objects to spot ranges from 6 for Q to 35 for S (this was easy to determine, because there's a list at the back.)

Chwast's combination of simplicity and surrealism--his pictures look a little like a cross between a "Tintin" book and the movie "Yellow Submarine"--make this book utterly eye-catching. The abundant detail never crowds the eye; each object can be enjoyed individually or as part of the scene. This book is ideal for readers who need practice with the alphabet--and unlike a "Sesame Street" cartoon, it can be enjoyed at a child's leisure.

The Sun Rises, The Star Shines; Happy Moose, Grumpy Goose; Red Strawberry; Spots on My Shoes written and illustrated by John Clementson. Red Wagon/Harcourt Brace, 1995 (0-15-200316-9; 0-15-200315-0; 0-15-200314-2; 0-15-200313-4) $4 ea. board

Pleasingly fresh, this series goes just a little beyond the usual territory of board books. Three of the titles are concept books that use an interesting general-to-specific technique: Red Strawberry shows a close-up of a food to demonstrate a color, then backs away to show what the food is; Spots on My Shoes shows different shapes and then the clothes they're on; The Sun Rises, The Star Shines shows objects in action and then incrementally increases their number. The fourth book is more ordinary, a simple, lively rhyming text about animals. All of the books are illustrated in contrasting warm and cool colors, with a southwestern feel to the staccato shapes; Hap.y Moose, Grumpy Goose is a little too cartoony. These imaginative juxtapositions of text and picture may actually be more clever than board books really need to be, but unlike many, they're fun to read as well as to listen to.

Big, Bigger, Biggest written and illustrated by Nancy Coffelt. Henry Holt, 2009 (978-0-8050-8089-6) $16.95

From its small format and laughing hippo cover, you'd expect this to be a pretty standard simple toddler book, and for the most part it is. But language lovers will find treats far beyond the usual fare, with unexpected words like "rapacious," "viscous" and "somnolent." Adults reading aloud could also dig up words to introduce like "superlatives," "synonyms," and "antonyms," if they like.

Each page features a different animal, who tells us a little about itself: "I'm slow," says the turtle. "I'm plodding. I'm languid. I'm ponderous." But the sloth is slower: "I'm poky. I'm laggard, I'm slothful." And the slug tops them all as the slowest: "I'm sluggish. I'm lethargic. I'm lackadaisical!" The topics are big/small, fast/slow, hungry, slimy and sleepy, so it's not completely symmetrical.

Illustrations are basic but animated, showing little scenes of the boldly outlined animals against colored backgrounds; the simplicity is an effective counterpoint to the complicated words. An excellent book for introducing concepts as well as stretching verbal horizons. (2-4)

Maisy's ABC written and illustrated by Lucy Cousins. Candlewick, 1995 (1-56402-419-9) $12.95

Maisy's alphabet book is just what you'd expect from a book starring the popular mouse girl--simple groupings of animals and objects, illustrated with bright, primary colors and bold, chunky shapes. Each open page continues the alphabet by showing Maisy in a different scene, with pull-tabs and flaps to add a little more fun: one page, for example, shows Maisy driving a "Tt train", with "Rr rabbit" and "Ss Snake" in the cars behind her. (Almost unnoticable is the smokestack, which pulls out to reveal a little "toot toot.") The pull-tabs are sturdy and nicely designed, especially one page of birds and insects who all flap their wings at one pull. But even without the novelty elements, Maisy's ABC is notable for its very active heroine, who's always busy doing something interesting. (2-5)

Maisy's First Clock written and illustrated by Lucy Cousins. Candlewick, 2001 (0-7636-1788-1) $12.99 board book.

This large board book has an extra feature: as Maisy the mouse goes about her day--dressing in the morning, shopping for food, playing at the park--readers can move a built in clock to see how the time is passing. It's an surprisingly good toy clock, too: colored gears click with each movement, and the second hand moves in proper synch with the hour hand. The large size is perfect for Maisy, who is as boldly outlined and colorfully fun as ever, though this book focuses more on everyday objects than the more action-oriented board books for babies. (3-6)

My Pop-up Surprise ABC; My Pop-up Surprise 123 written and illustrated by Robert Crowther. Orchard, 1997 (0-561-30038-2; 0-531-30039-0) $19.95 each

The "surprises" in these genial concept books are clever novelties within novelties. Pulling a tab reveals an apple--and a flap that turns the apple into a core; after finding an egg hiding behind a flap, readers then pull a tab to hatch a chicken. Aside from the ingenious paper tricks, the design of the book is quite simple, using big blocks of color and large type to keep the concepts from getting overpowered by the presentation; a small but lively touch of humor is added by tiny, oddball robots that dance through the pages, turning up in the most unexpected places. (3-8)

Opposites illustrated by Robert Crowther. Candlewick, 2005 (0-7636-2783-6) $12.99

Novelty elements are used to perfection in this clever look at opposites. Readers pull or turn tabs that make a thin sandwich stretch out to become thick, or put a patch on a pair of formerly new pants. Perhaps most fun of all is the man's sad face that turns literally upside down to become happy. The design is very clean, with big, simple shapes against bold color backgrounds. (2 & up)

The ABC Mystery written and illustrated by Doug Cushman. 1993; HarperTrophy, 1996 (0-06-443459-1) $4.95 pb

This sly parody of old-fashioned mysteries manages to find excitement and humor in the classic "A is for" format. Detective Inspector McGroom and the hapless Dame Agatha go on a hunt for her missing painting, sniffing out clues and interviewing suspicious characters, all to the driving rhythm of a great rhyming text. Nattily dressed in Edwardian outfits--except for their feet, which helpfully leave paw prints--the members of the all-animal cast are hilariously expressive in their classic roles. Even when the mystery is solved, this book bears frequent rereading. (3-8)

Ten Out of Bed written and illustrated by Penny Dale. Candlewick, 1994 (1-56402-322-2) $14.95

There's supposed to be ten in the bed--but these ten, a little boy and his nine stuffed animals--aren't a bit tired. So there's ten out of bed, and the little one said, "Let's play!" And as each animal thinks up a new game to play--pirates, dancing, monsters--they fall asleep one by one, until the little one finally says, "I'm sleepy now!" and slips under the covers next to his friends. Beautifully detailed colored pencil and watercolor drawings show the animals at their imaginative play, with the shrinking cast making this an interesting counting game as well as a bedtime story. Children will enjoy following the different characters throughout their games; a nice touch is that the stuffed animals casually switch male and female parts. (2-5)

Amazon ABC by Kathy Darling. Photographed by Tara Darling. Lothrop, 1996 (0-688-13778-4) $16.00

This is the second alphabet book I've seen about Amazon animals this year, and at first glance it's not remarkably different, although illustrated with photographs rather than drawings. I think this one may have the edge, however: less consciously gorgeous, it's also more visually interesting. Large, crisp photographs give the reader a chance to observe numerous details about the Amazon creatures in their natural habitat; some pages, such as G, grasshopper, include multiple shots, showing the many colors and varieties one species can include. There's no text other than the alphabetical names, but several pages at the end give basic information about the rain forest and the animals. Eye-catching and intriguing, this can be used as an alphabet book or as an introduction to the wonders of the Amazon rain forest. (3 & up)

The Shape of Things by Dayle Ann Dodds. Illustrated by Julie Lacome. Candlewick, 1994 (1-56402-224-2) $13.95

Providing a mini-art lesson, The Shape of Things shows how putting plain shapes together can make pictures: two triangles form a sailboat, four rectangles make a train, a diamond becomes a kite. Illustrations in solid blocks of color accompany a rhyming text; both are cheerful but somewhat bland. Borders in decorative patterns, made with potato printing, add some visual interest to the pages. (2-6)

An Alphabet of Dinosaurs by Peter Dodson. Illustrated by Wayne D. Barlowe (paintings) and Michael Meaker (sketches). Scholastic, 1995 (0-590-46486-8) $14.95

Twenty-six of the lesser known dinosaurs of the Mesozoic era are dramatically introduced in this vividly illustrated book. Its purpose is to show dinosaurs, "as we now think of them. . . vibrant, active dinosaurs living in a world filled with brightly colored animals and plants," and it does that admirably, with rich, brilliantly colored paintings of striking scenes. The brief accompanying text gives a few interesting facts about each dinosaur along with sketches of its skeletal structure; a chart at the end gives more organized information. My only complaint about the book is that I'm unsure whether the brilliant colorations of the dinosaurs are accurate representations (as far as we can know) or mostly the artist's creative vision. (4-12)

Eating the Alphabet written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert. Red Wagon, 1996 (0-15-201036-X) $6.00

With vibrant, multi-colored and textured collage illustrations of fruits and vegetables that make even the "yuckiest" look juicy and delicious, this popular book now works beautifully in the board book format. The text is simplicity itself--just the names of the foods--and the bold pictures against a white background are easy on the eyes. Children too young to take in the alphabet lesson can still enjoy hearing the names of familiar and exotic fruits (try and guess what she uses for "X".) (1-3)

Color Farm; Color Zoo illustrated by Lois Ehlert. HarperCollins, 1997 (0-694-01066-9; 0-694-01067-7) $6.95 each

After seeing the tattered remains of a copy of Color Farm at my dentist's office, I'm glad that these rather fragile books are now available in a sturdier board book format. Mostly pictures--and what pictures!--these books feature animal faces composed of a mesmerizing combination of brilliant colors and die-cut shapes; turning the pages removes one level of shape and color to creates a whole new animal face. Ehlert's illustrations, always vivid and striking, are at their most intriguing in these books, which make ordinary shapes surprisingly fascinating. (1-6)

The Letters are Lost written and illustrated by Lisa Campbell Ernst. Viking, 1996 (0-670-86336-X) $14.99; Puffin, (0-14-055663-X) $5.99 pb

This charming spin on alphabets takes a box of ordinary alphabet blocks and sends them on some wild adventures: A flies high in an airplane, B tumbles into a bath, and so on. Set inside a playroom, there's a lot of gentle humor in this simple story, as the blocks encounter other toys and pets, all of whom are somewhat bemused by their strange behavior. The colorful pictures are simple but eye-catching and the playroom setting allows for some amusing tricks with scale. (2-6)

Can You Count Ten Toes? by Lezlie Evans. Illustrated by Denis Roche. Houghton Mifflin, 1999; 2004 (0-618-49487-1) $5.95 pb

I would have to like this book no matter what, because it has that all-too-rare and wonderful thing: a pronunciation guide after each word! Luckily, that's not all there is to like. A short rhyming text introduces a different language per page, with various items to count from one to ten in that language; uncrowded illustrations show a cat-person enjoying various around-the-world adventures with a group of children. A continent map at the end shows the parts of the world where each language is spoken, including 20 countries for Spanish and 26 for French. An enjoyable book for fans of both language and counting. (3-8)

Handsigns illustrated by Kathleen Fain. Chronicle, 1993 (0-8118-0310-4) $13.95; (0-8118-1196-4) $5.95 pb

This unusual book not only teaches the standard alphabet, but the American Manual Alphabet--in which letters are represented by "handsigns"--as well. Each textless page includes a vibrantly colored picture of one or more animals, with a small inset box demonstrating a handsign. An introduction at the beginning explains the history and purpose of finger spelling, while a glossary at the end relates facts about the depicted animals. Yet something seems missing in this book. The softly shaded illustrations are attractive but sedate, and they don't relate in any meaningful way to the handsigns; nothing about them really excites the reader to want to learn to sign. This may limit the book's usefulness, and its appeal to older readers. A much more appealing book is The Handmade Alphabet. (See below.) (2-6)

Outside Inside written and illustrated by Kathleen Fain. Chronicle, 1999 (0-8118-1981-7) $5.95

This early introduction to the idea of habitats uses die-cut pages to peek at the animals outside and inside places like a desert cave and a redwood tree. It's perhaps not coincidental that the animals "inside" always seem to be sleeping babies. Gentle rhymes and softly outlined illustrations also emphasize a restful effect, with scenes landscapes in soothing greens and browns fully covering the pages. (1-3)

Moja Means One: a Swahili Counting Book by Muriel Feelings. Illustrated by Tom Feelings. Puffin Pied Piper, 1994 (0-14-055296-0) $18.99 oversized pb

Now available in a "giant" format, ideal for teachers to use in the classroom, Caldecott honor winner Moja Means One is a handsome book that teaches the Swahili numbers from one to ten. Each number is accompanied by a short description--more informative than entertaining--of a unique aspect of East African culture. The evocative illustrations, in subtle shades of black and white, have enlarged beautifully. Basic pronunciation guidelines are provided, but the book is lacking in one important aspect: many things shown in the illustrations aren't identified. (I'm dying of curiosity about the name of a fish that looks like a bird lying on a balloon.) (4-8)

Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings written and illustrated by Matthew Van Fleet. Dial, 1996 (0-8037-1759-8) $10.95

A liberal use of white space makes this book look uncomplicated at first glance, but it's actually very busy: chock full full of concepts and novelty techniques. Each page introduces a different color, shape and texture, as well as a few visual hints about what readers will see when they turn over a flap: a fuzzy yellow circle turns into a duckling, a bumpy brown triangle becomes a toad and a sticky pink line is a frog's tongue. (Some of the shape-animal relationships are a bit strained, especially the improbable square koala.) At the end of the book, a long fold-out panel shows two amusing scenes of all the animal characters interacting together, while a short poem encourages readers to practice identifying the shapes, colors and names they've just read about. Some toddlers may find this all a bit overwhelming, but generally this is an attractive and appealing book. The light, expressive watercolors give the animals humor and character, and the textures are especially well implemented, including a successful "sticky" feel. (2-4)

Lunch written and illustrated by Denise Fleming. Henry Holt, 1992; 1998 (0-8050-5696-3) $6.95

Celebrating the joys of food, bright colors and making a mess, Lunch is a cheerful romp that feels just right as a board book. As a very hungry mouse treats himself to tasty orange carrots, sweet yellow corn and tart blue berries, he gradually becomes a pallette of different colors, leaving multi-colored tracks wherever he goes. Breezy paper collage illustrations show a happily ravenous mouse, rushing around with his mouth wide open and ever more colorful bits of food clinging to him. Readers will also enjoy trying to guess what food the mouse will get into next. (2-6)

Alphabet Under Construction written and illustrated by Denise Fleming. Henry Holt, 2002 (0-8005-6848-1) $16.95.

In this follow up to Lunch, Mouse is busy at work, constructing, beautifying and approving the entire alphabet. Handily he buttons the B together, folds the F into its proper shape and award a blue ribbon after judging the J. Although the idea isn't especially novel, this alphabet is both fun and gorgeous: vibrant, dynamic colors and textures are a joy to look at, and the movements of the dauntless and vigorous Mouse keeps the tone animated and intimate. A small poster showing each page is included with the book. (2-8)

Where Is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox. Illustrated by Judy Horacek. Harcourt, 2004 (0-15-204907-X) $15.00.

There are lots of sheep in this book--a blue sheep and a red sheep, a bath sheep and a bed sheep. But where is the green sheep? Unsurprisingly, fast asleep. Many silly opposites bring a light touch of whimsy to a common picture book theme, nicely matched by simply lined but imaginatively designed illustrations. I particularly like the "rain sheep," who swings from a lamppost ala Gene Kelly. (1-4)

The Alphabet Tale by Jane Garten. Illustrated by Muriel Batherman. Random House, 1964; Greenwillow, 1994 (0-688-12702-9) $15.00

An unusually clever and fun approach makes The Alphabet Tale , in its new, revised edition, a standout among alphabet books. Each letter stands for the name of an animal--no surprise there. But instead of a picture of the animal, you see only its tail sticking out, while a short verse offers hints of what you'll see when you turn the page. The dissected animals are funny and the rhymes pleasant reading, but the real ingenuity lies in implicitly encouraging children to stop and sound out the beginning of each animal's name as they guess, making a strong connection between the letters and their sounds. The no-frills pictures won't knock your socks off, but they really don't need to.

Shapes photographed by Anne Geddes. Cedco, 1998 (0-7683-2023-2)

Geddes, whose popular appeal to adults is undeniable, now brings her whimsical outlook on babies to children's books. In this entry in a series of concept books, photographs of babies dressed as objects like snails or walnuts demonstrate different shapes; the effect is surprisingly effective, as we see a red triangle reflected in a pointy red cap worn by a very young gnome. But Geddes doesn't completely have a handle on picture books yet; fully half the photographs are of babies sleeping, a subject of far more interest to adults than to most children. Still, the eye-catching costumes and settings and the unusual style of the photographs may win her some child fans. (3-6)

Pigs from A to Z written and illustrated by Arthur Geisert. Houghton Mifflin, 1986; 1996 (0-395-77874-3) $7.95 pb

Fine-line drawings against a sepia background form some intriguing alphabet landscapes in this puzzle-story. As seven pig siblings build a treehouse--a process which sometimes involves complicated Rube Goldberg-type machines--they also form letters of the alphabet. Each page has five example of the current letter, one each of the preceding and following letters, and seven pigs to find in the crowded landscape; for desperate seekers, there's a key at the end. With illustrations that are far more sophisticated and evocative than most books of this type, this game is on par with hunting for Ninas in Hirschfeld drawings. (4 & up)

How Many Snails? by Paul Giganti, Jr. Illustrated by Donald Crews. Greenwillow, 1988; Mulberry, 1994 (0-688-13639-7) $4.95 pb

For counting on a more complex level, How Many Snails introduces the concept of variations between similar things. Each clearly illustrated page shows a group of objects; the narrator of the story first wonders how many there are, then proceeds to break them down into smaller categories. Although only three questions are asked per group, the potential for making up more questions and spending even more time counting is evident. The brightly colored pictures offer lots of objects for practice with larger numbers and the questions are easily answered (except possibly the subjective "how many books are tiny.") The sentimental ending, in which the narrator thinks about how many bedtime kisses he's going to get, is rather incongruous in a book which is otherwise upfrontly educational, and may turn off older children. (5-10)

ABC For You and Me by Meg Girnis. Photographed by Shirley Leamon Green. Whitman, 2000 (0-8075-0101-8) $15.95

This delightful alphabet of photographs sweeps aside the "otherness" of disability with winning aplomb. For each letter, a straightforward picture of one or two children against a plain white background illustrates a noun: for A, a boy simply holds an apple. What makes this book unusual? Each picture is of a child with Down syndrome--and as the kids gently play with animals, strum on a guitar, and enjoy toys together, they project a confidence and joy that's irresistibly attractive. Without hiding anything that makes a child with Downs different, the book clearly shows that "you" is really not all that far from "me." (2-8)

1 2 3 for You and Me by Meg Girnis. Photographed by Shirley Leamon Green. Whitman, 2001 (0-8075-6107-X) $14.95

The companion to ABC for You and Me (see above) is another attractive book putting children with Down Syndrome and their siblings in a positive setting, as they enjoy items ranging from 1 toy bird to twenty ballons. (2-8)

C is for City by Nikki Grimes. Illustrated by Pat Cummings. Lothrop, 1995 (0-688-11808-9) $16.00

An alphabet book that is also an animated depiction of the sights and sounds of city life, this rhyming text paints a vivid, memorable portrait of a city in which "B is for butcher or breakfast with bagels or block-party bands out on hot summer nights. . . C is for city or cabbies named Clarence or cool cats who chat under boulevard lights." Bright, gaudy illustrations in a pop-art-realism style combine a feeling of immediacy with an atmosphere of nostalgia, very effectively conveying the city's jumble of old and new. (They also, very firmly, establish the city as New York.) Still, something isn't quite right--the honest, gritty quality of the text isn't reflected in the clean and shining world of the illustrations. Grimes' strong, loving word-pictures deserve a less idealized, more genuinely accepting accompaniment. (4-10)

See Them Go! written and illustrated by Max Grover. Red Wagon/Harcourt Brace, 1997 (0-15-201513-2) $12.95 book and mobile

Grover tones down his usual busy, surreal style for a simpler look at different kinds of colors and vehicles. His vivid colors and contrasting shapes are appealing, but at just four lines, the rhyming text seems awfully abrupt. The book comes with a cardboard mobile featuring the vehicles and scenery from the illustrations, a cute idea which helps reinforce the concepts--still, I can't help wishing it was from one of Grover's more visually compelling books, like The Accidental Zuchinni. (6 months-2)

Amazing & Incredible Counting Stories! written and illustrated by Max Grover. Harcourt Brace, 1995 (0-15-200090-9) $14.00

Grover's absurdist paintings are well suited to this counting book, a jovial spoof of tabloid newspapers in which Sleepless Residents are Upset by 2 Giant Banjos and 11 Telephones are Found Growing in Woods! The "tall tales" go up to 25 objects, then skip to 50, 75 and 100 and end with "Millions of Readers Learn by Counting Stories!" (Don't try to count this picture.) With lots of odd shapes, ridiculous juxtapositions of objects and brilliant, eye-catching colors, the illustrations are filled with visual excitement, a fitting accompaniment to the punning, surreal text. Too sophisticated for most beginning counters, this book will be a boon to older children who need entertaining reinforcement of their counting skills. (5-12)

Turtle Island ABC by Gerald Hausman. Illustrated by Cara and Barry Moser. HarperCollins (0-06-021307-8) $15.00

It's rare for an alphabet book to be beautifully written, but this one offers far more than "A is for Arrow." Turtle Island is the name Native Americans--or the People, as they called themselves--gave to North America; the Turtle Island ABC is a collection of symbols from their culture. Each symbol describes itself and the place it had among the People: "I am the ARROW that is sent from a bow. I am strong and straight. The People sing a prayer as they send me into the sky." The accompanying pictures seem to be made of color, the objects they show almost disappearing into subtle shadings of rich earth tones, flame reds and cool blues. Don't expect to teach young children the alphabet from this book--do use it as a mesmerizing introduction to the meaning of cultural symbolism. Especially recommended for classrooms.

Here Comes Silent e! by Anna Jane Hays. Illustrated by JoAnn Adinolfi. Random House (Step Into Reading), 2004 (0-375-81233-4) $3.99 pb

Anyone writing about "silent e" for the television generation has an automatic handicap: how can we possibly read without "who can turn a man into a mane?" running through our heads? But even with that competition, this effective little story holds its own. Here, Silent e takes a bite out of a bit of cake and turns a troublesome kit into a high-flying kite. A helpful design emphasizes the focal words for beginning readers, who probably won't be too bothered by the occasional forced rhyme. The colored pencil illustrations have a childlike flair, somewhat reminiscent of Lynda Barry. (5-8)

Counting Farm written and illustrated by Kathy Henderson. Candlewick, 1998 (0-7636-0460-7) $3.99

This concept book for the very young uses a cheerful, appealingly rhythmic text to gently introduce the idea of counting, starting with "one rooster, two speckled hens, three little chicks in the poultry pen." Soft watercolors with an uncomplicated design are easy on the eyes. (2-4)

One by One by Judy Hindley. Illustrated by Nick Sharratt. Candlewick, 1996 (1-56402-678-7) $4.99 pb

Animals marching one by one aren't so bad--but when they start coming two by two, three by three and four by four, it's time to shut the door! And when they're arriving seven by seven--oh good heaven! This lively rhyming text uses a strong but variable rhythm to amusingly build tension, as it shows all sorts of animals cheerfully marching to surround the house of a nervous boy and girl. Fortunately, the animals quickly respond to their plea to "please go away" and march off again--except for the lone elephant, who gets to stay. Lighthearted pictures in bright, contrasting colors emphasize the concept of groups and make counting easy. A fun read-aloud, as well as good number practice. (3-8)

Colors Everywhere photographed by Tana Hoban. Greenwillow, 1995 (0-688-12762-2) $16.00

Most books for young children about colors treat them in a very limited subject: every object has just one color and every color has only one shade. This eye-catching book takes a completely different approach. Each page is a lively, brilliantly colored photograph of animals, people or interesting objects; next to the photograph is a color chart that shows the colors that can be found in the object. There's no text, no complicated names to learn, just a chance to look at some fuzzy yellow ducklings and see that they also have tan on their heads and feet. More sophisticated readers may also realize that the color blocks in the charts also reflect the amount of each color in the picture. A terrific book for an adult or an older child to share with a toddler.

Of Colors and Things photographed by Tana Hoban. Greenwillow, 1989 (0-688-07534-7); Mulberry, 1996 (0-688-04585-5) $4.95 pb; Tupelo, 1998 (0-688-16389-0) $6.95 board book

Like other titles by Hoban, this wordless book of photographs looks at colors as found in ordinary objects, especially objects familiar to a young child's world. Each page is divided by a colored cross into four boxes, each of which holds an object of that same color; one of the boxes generally also features some different colors, to provide an interesting contrast. A page of blue, for example, holds a plastic baby block, a speckled pot, a ribbon, and a child's ring toy that has a rainbow of colors, with a blue ring on top. The vivid purity of the colors really grabs the attention, making the simplest things seem uniquely solid, real and beautiful. (1-4)

Is It Larger? Is It Smaller? photographed by Tana Hoban. Greenwillow, 1985 (0-688-04027-6); Mulberry, 1997 (0-688-15287-2) $4.95 pb

One of Toban's most fascinating collections of photographs wordlessly explores the concept of size by showing exquisitely composed pictures of everyday scenes. Each picture has several objects which are similar, yet different sizes: a row of icicles, a family's toothbrushes in a glass, a child's hand resting on an adult's. In one marvelously composed photo, a boy tenderly holds a rabbit over his shoulder: the eye is immediately drawn to the amazing difference between their ears. A wonderful book to share with an inquisitive toddler. (2 & up)

Exactly the Opposite photographed by Tana Hoban. Greenwillow, 1990 (0-688-08861-9); Mulberry, 1997 (0-688-15473-5) $4.95 pb

What is an opposite, anyway? We all think we know, but it's actually a surprisingly slippery concept--as I found out when I tried to explain it to several mentally handicapped students I was tutoring. Too bad I didn't have this book, which looks at just about every kind of opposite there is. Strikingly composed, action-filled photographs show that opposites can be front and back, empty or full, whole or broken, fire or ice. As usual, Hoban needs no words; the pictures themselves cry out for discussion.

Look Book photographed by Tana Hoban. Greenwillow, 1997 (0-688-14971-5) $16.00

The latest in Hoban's "Look" series features primarily nature photography: animals, flowers, leaves, and one incongruous but interesting photograph of a batch of hard pretzels. The photographs are first seen through a die-cut circle which offers an intriguing glimpse of colors and textures; turning the page gives the full view of the picture. When the page is turned again, we see a distanced view of the same subject, which in turn is covered with a die-cut page, so that once again, only a small section is visible. Strongly colorful and sharply detailed, Hoban's photographs encourage readers to look and look again, effortlessly absorbing concepts of aesthetics and perspective as they do. (2 & up)

Let's Count photographed by Tana Hoban. Greenwillow, 1999 (0-688-16008-5) $16.00

This counting book seems to be a bit of a departure from other Hoban works I've seen. The format is elegantly basic, as always, with a number represented with a numeral, a word, and the appropriate number of dots on one side of the page and a photograph on the other, but the photos seem to be going in more advanced directions. The colors are more muted than usual, some of the subjects are more complex and "arty"--a large group of dummy heads wearing glasses is particularly curious--and several--glistening apples and soda cans in particular--look enhanced in some way, almost as if they were painted rather than photographed. It's not quite what you expect, but a stimulating change, which may earn Hoban an older audience than usual. (3-12)

Shapes, Shapes, Shapes photographed by Tana Hoban. Greenwillow, 1986; 1996 (0-688-14740-2) $4.95 pb

This wordless book of color photographs invites us to look for different shapes in some of the unlikeliest places: a soaped-up window, a building covered with peeling paint, a full lunchbox. Hoban's skill at capturing small slices of life make this exercise quite effective, drawing the viewer into the photos to see things they might never have noticed otherwise. It's an excellent introduction to the aesthetics of photography, as well as to the concept of standard shapes. (3-10)

A Creepy Countdown by Charlotte Huck. Illustrated by Jos. A. Smith. Greenwillow, 1998 (0-688-15460-3) $15.00; HarperTrophy, 2000 (0-688-17717-4) $5.95 pb

Finely etched scratchboard drawings, accentuated with startling bits of color, give a decidedly creepy atmosphere to this counting book. Counting from one to ten, it shows us chilling images of Halloween night, like one scarecrow frowning threateningly, three jack-o'-lanterns grimacing, and seven red-eyed ghosts arising from their graves. But when the countdown reaches ten, ten tiny mice, "feeling very brave," completely turn the tables on the scary creatures, who scurry away as quickly as they can. The unexpected routing of the menacing creatures makes the book both funny and empowering. (5-8)

The Nursery Collection written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1994 (0-688-13583-5) $17.00

Originally published as miniature books, The Nursery Collection is now available as one large picture book. Each short piece--featuring a chubby-cheeked little girl and her chubby-cheeked baby brother--gives a gentle lesson in a simple concept: opposites, numbers, colors, sizes and shapes, and sounds. All but one of the books are told in pleasing rhyme, but what makes them so distinctive is their combination of simplicity and childlike detail. Here is a description of yellow from "Colours": "Syrup dripping from a spoon, Buttercups, a harvest moon, Sun like honey on the floor, Warm as the steps by our back door." Even the simplest ideas seem more interesting than usual as described by Hughes: "Get behind to push. Get in front to pull. This jar's empty. Now it's full." In combination with her drawings--brilliant expressions of natural body language--the concepts seem clear, true and appropriate. Every toddler should have this book. * (1-6)

Alfie's ABC written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes. Lothrop, 1998 (0-688-16126-X) $16.00

"X is for xylophone" may have gotten old, but in this alphabet book it's a bit more interesting than usual--this xylophone belongs to Alfie, and each bar "makes a different sound when Alfie hits it." Starring Hughes' well-loved characters Alfie and Annie Rose, this alphabet book doesn't just relate a letter to an object but to an entire childhood experience: K is for kitten, and the one tugging at Alfie's blanket is named Boots; L is for lamb, which is Annie Rose's favorite toy. Even the simplest statements--"P is for parks and puddles"--become a childhood story through the strongly defined watercolor illustrations, which focus on just the right details and are filled with a sense of movement and immediacy. (3-6)

Kipper's A to Z written and illustrated by Mick Inkpen. Hodder, 2000; Red Wagon, 2005 (0-15-205441-3) $7.00 pb

Children who already have some familiarity with the alphabet will enjoy this book from its first page, in which Kipper the dog tells a small zebra, "We won't need you till much, much later." As Kipper and his friend Arnold embark on a meandering alphabetical adventure, the Zebra keeps popping in to ask for its turn. Finally, "Yy is for Yes!" it's time for "Zz is for Zebra!" Despite the self-referential humor, this is not an overly sophisticated book: big, bright pages with plenty of white space are easy on the eyes, and familiar, frequently repeated words offer lots of potential success for beginning readers. (3-7)

Color Dance written and illustrated by Ann Jonas. Greenwillow, 1989; Mulberry, 1999 (0-688-05991-0) $4.95

This highly imaginative concept book brings the purely scientific rules of the color wheel to unexpected life. Rainbow colored curtains open onto a stage on which three girls--one in red, one in yellow and one in blue--dance together. As they dance, they twirl giant scarves the same colors as their leotards; the scarves flow together to form new colors. After the girls have danced every possible combination, a boy in black tights and a white shirt dances in to show that white makes colors pale, gray makes them dark, and black makes them almost disappear. The brilliant blobs of color are the real stars here: The simple outlines of the watercolor illustrations keep the emphasis on the effects of the dance rather than the blandly drawn characters. The design of the text also attractively reinforces the concepts with different colored inks. (3-8)

Amazon Alphabet by Tanis Jordan. Illustrated by Martin Jordan. Kingfisher, 1996 (1-85697-666-1) $16.95

This is a sumptuously illustrated introduction to some of the unusual and exotic animals found in the Amazon jungle. The large, brilliantly colored paintings are striking and effective, with an unusually sophisticated design. Decidedly secondary to the illustrations, the text is single lines of information in the traditional "A is for" style; more detailed descriptions of each animal are found at the back. (3-8)

A You're Adorable words and music by Buddy Kaye, Fred Wise and Sidney Lippman. Illustrated by Martha Alexander. Candlewick, 1994 (1-56402-237-4) $9.95

This illustrated version of the popular standard "'A' You're Adorable" may not be the most sensible way to teach the alphabet, but it has to be one of the most fun, offering a delightful musical memory aid that's also a perfect way to let children know you think they're special. Each letter has its own playful little drawing that lovingly illustrates the accompanying verse; Alexander's delicately beautiful children and animals make her the ideal illustrator for the song. The book won't be as much fun to read if you don't know the tune, but the sheet music is provided. (2-4)

Grandpa Gazillion's Number Yard written and illustrated by Laurie Keller. Henry Holt, 2005 (0-8050-6282-3) $16.95

The author/illustrator of The Scrambled States of America offers up some more marvelous nonsense with this counting book, which describes many surprising uses of numbers: a TWELVE makes great ear plugs, a FIVE is a handy snorkel, and if you ever try spinach ice cream, you'll want a handy SEVEN to scrape that cow dung taste off your tongue. All these useful numbers, and many more, can be purchased at Grandpa Gazillion's number yard, a treasure trove of beautiful and useful numerals. Crowded, complicated and sometimes genuinely strange illustrations really capture the attention here; the overall effect of the book is so captivatingly odd, that the sometimes forced rhymes and awkward stress of the text-- "You've just been sat on by a giant meatball! Pick up your SIXTEEN phone and give him a call"--seem barely noticeable. (4-8)

Pink, Red, Blue, What are You? written and illustrated by Laura McGee Kvasnosky. Dutton, 1994 (0-525-45233-8) $3.99

With text and pictures that match each other perfectly in humor and liveliness, this simple rhyming book about colors is fun reading for both adults and children. The "mean green" alligators may be a little too toothy for those easily scared. (1-4)

Come Out and Play written and illustrated by Diane Law. North-South, 2006 (978-0-7358-2060-9) $9.95

To a text that's merely the numbers from 1 to 10 in English, Spanish, German, French and Chinese, one boy starts a line of hand-holding children, finding other kids one by one from all around the world. From Alaska to the desert the line travels, picking up kids from their smiling parents, with interesting items to count on each page. In the final scene, all ten of the children play ball in a sunny field together. (One can only pity the poor fur-clad Inuit child.)

There's something uncomfortably reminiscent of Disney's "It's a Small World" ride about this book, in the way the non-Western children and their families are all dressed in uber ethnic garb. (A French girl, of course, wears a baret.) Unfortunately, the clothing and scenery are the only clues to indicate where each child is from, and oddly, there isn't any particular relationship between the languages given and the children's nationalities. (Where is a Chinese-speaking child?) A better organized and more informative book is Can You Count Ten Toes? (see above.) Nonetheless, the very simplicity of this book has an appeal, as does the ever-growing line of happy children. The brightly colored, collage-style illustrations make them look a bit like paper-dolls and has me longing to pick them up and play with them. (2-6)

Caribbean Alphabet written and illustrated by Frane' Lessac. Tambourine, 1994 (0-688-12952-8) $15.00

From A for agouti to Z for zzzz, Caribbean Alphabet uses the ABC format to help create a colorful portrait of life in the Caribbean Islands. Each letter gets several descriptive words--the less well-known are explained in a glossary--all of which come together in illustrations that are tiny, vibrant slices of island life: rainbow-clad Rastafarians listen to reggae on the radio; a steelband plays on sand filled with starfish and seashells. The primitive-style drawings do wonderful things with light, color and background; you can almost feel the heat of the sun or the coolness of the air in each painting. The surprising thing is that it also works as an alphabet book, the familiar and exotic words suggesting lots of fun learning possibilities.

Away From Home written and illustrated by Anita Lobel. Greenwillow, 1994 (0-688-10354-5) $16

This imaginative alphabet book takes readers on an around the world voyage of fascinating sights. Presented as a stage show, it features children alliteratively acting in front of exotic backdrops: Bernard balloons in Barcelona, Frederick fiddles in Florence. Meanwhile, an audience of children points and claps. The "backdrops" are richly drawn paintings of famous landmarks; descriptions of the cities and landmarks are included at the end.

While I admire the creative juxtaposition of the unfamiliar and exotic with the ordinary here, there's something about this book that disturbs me: all of the performers are boys. This is presumably to make it an opposite-sex companion to Alison's Zinnia (see below), but with picture books still strongly male-dominated, it seems particularly unfortunate that a book which stresses action and adventure so strikingly gives girls no place except in the audience. (2-6)

Alison's Zinnia written and illustrated by Anita Lobel. Greenwillow, 1990; Mulberry, 1996 (0-688-14737-2) $4.95 pb

Twenty-six beautiful flowers and twenty-six generous little girls are the stars of this very attractive alphabet book. Each two-part page not only shows a carefully detailed drawing of a flower, but includes part of an illustrated story-in-the-round, in which Alison acquires an Amaryllis for Beryl, who buys a Begonia for Crystal, and so on. The text therefore gracefully emphasizes both the individual letters and their progression in the alphabet, while the pictures of the winsome little girls give quite a feel for the pleasures of gardening. (3-8)

On Market Street by Arnold Lobel. Illustrated by Anita Lobel. 1981; Greenwillow, 2006 (0-688-08745-0) $6.99 pb

Detail-oriented children will be enthralled by this Caldecott Honor winning alphabet book, which shows 26 extraordinary merchants selling their wears. A short verse starts off the story, with a boy discovering the wonders of Market Street: he goes on to buy apples, books, clocks, and so forth. What makes this market so extraordinary is that the sellers are composed almost entirely of their wares. Egg cups form the arms and legs of the egg seller, with a belt of hard-boiled eggs around his waist; the ice cream man's torso is a giant cone. The style of the illustrations is intricate, ornate and static, with details like masks and wigs creating the look of an absurd historical fashion show. In the end, the boy carries home a voluminous stack of goodies, as presents for his cat. Or perhaps, as a last simple illustration suggests, he just imagined it all. (3 & up)

Sea Shapes written and illustrated by Suse MacDonald. Gulliver, 1994 (0-15-200027-5) $13.95 (printed on recycled paper); Voyager, 1998 (0-15-201700-3) $6.00 pb

Illustrated with colorful sea scenes, this fascinating look at shapes shows how their artificial forms can be found in nature. One side of each page shows a standard shape, changing from scene to scene until it is part of a sea creature; the other side of the page features a full-page illustration of the creature in its natural form and environment. The collage pictures, showing the sea in many lights and shades, are vibrant and eye-catching; each also works as a mini-art lesson. An appendix at the end gives basic facts about each sea inhabitant featured in the book. (2-6)

A Pod of Orcas by Sheryl McFarlane. Illustrated by Kristi Anne Wakelin. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2002 (1-55041-681-2) $16.95; (1-55-41-722-3) $9.95 pb

Watercolor paintings show cool seaside scenes as the text counts in rhyme, seeing "One lonely lighthouse guides ships night and day. Two giant freighters drop anchor in the bay." After "Ten brilliant sail boats fly along the breeze," suddenly, "A super pod of orcas explodes the glassy sea," their vibrant black and white forms spraying vibrantly from the water. The excitement over, the text counts back down to one, only now the counted objects speak of a gentle winding down: "Two loaded freighters finish for the day. One lonely lighthouse guides them on their way." The sparkle of the water in the muted watercolors gives them a look that's both refreshing and dreamy. (2-6)

Elmer's Day; Elmer's Weather; Elmer's Friends; Elmer's Colors written and illustrated by David McKee. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1994 (0-688-13759-8; 0-688-13760-1; 0-688-13761-X; 0-688-13762-8) $4.95 each

Elmer, an unusual elephant colored in bright, multicolored blocks, is the eye-catching star of this board book series. Each essentially plotless story introduces a simple concept--daily routines, weather, superlatives and colors--while Elmer cavorts with his jungle friends. Elmer's unique colors contrast memorably with the ordinary elephants in the books--amusingly so in Elmer's Weather, in which two grey elephants bump into each other in a fog. Elmer's Weather is probably the most fun book of the series, with more expressive and interesting art than the others and a funny cover featuring Elmer in cool sunglasses. (1-4)

What Am I? by Debbie MacKinnon. Photographs by Anthea Sieveking. Dial, 1996 (0-8037-1826-8) $10.99

The latest in this team's series of attractive concept books shows toddlers acting out jobs such as firefighters, musicians and parents. One page asks readers to guess the occupation and the accompanying page shows the (play) tools and accessories that go with it. The bright, active photographs both stimulate the imagination and encourage vocabulary building; it's easy to make a game out of learning unfamiliar words. I was pleased to see that sex-role stereotypes are carefully avoided, but not to unnatural lengths: letting the "mommy" dress-up in high heels and jewelry is pretty much a bow to the inevitable. Altogether, this is a very nice book to share with a toddler. (1-3)

What Size? by Debbie MacKinnon. Photographed by Anthea Sieveking. Dial, 1995 (0-8037-1745- 8) $10.99

Appealing photographs of toddlers at play illustrate some simple lessons about size: big and little, long and short, thick and thin and so on. The intent absorption of the children in their tasks is delightful to observe, while the straightforward text and sharp pictures against a white background make the concepts easy to understand. (1-3)

Gone Fishing written and illustrated by David McLimans. Walker, 2008 (978-0-8027-9770-4) $16.99

This follow-up to the Caldecott Honor book Gone Wild: an Endangered Animal Alphabet counts from one to ten and then back again, illustrating the numbers with stylized, folk-art drawings of endangered sea creatures. Drawn in blue, white and black, against blue or black backgrounds, the pictures are very striking, though squeezing the animals into the shapes of the numbers is sometimes an exercise in imagination. Each page also contains a more realistic drawing plus some basic information about the creature: class, habitat, regions, threats and endangered status. A "Diving Deeper" section at the end offer more detail on each one, and there is also a section on ocean facts by tens: "Less than 1 percent of water on Earth is freshwater. In every fisherman's haul of shrimp, the nets catch up to 10 times the weight of the shrimp in other species, which is then trashed. Giant kelp, the fastest-growing plant in the ocean, can grown up to 100 feet long in little more than a year."

As nonfiction this book is a little dry, no pun intended, but numbers that come with tentacles, bulging eyes and sharp teeth are an immediate eye-catcher, and the creative use of limited colors and negative space only adds to the strong visual appeal. (5-10)

Jeremy Kooloo written and illustrated by Tim Mahurin. Dutton, 1995 (0-525-45203-6) $13.99

Using just one word for each letter of the alphabet--except for a little of the customary cheating at the end--Jeremy Kooloo tells a complete story about "A Big Cat" who "Loves Milk. Nonfat." Naturally Jeremy Kooloo can't resist getting into all the milk glasses sitting on a table--and getting the milk into everything as well. Painted something like an animated plush toy, but with endearingly cat-like expressions, Jeremy Kooloo is an amusingly odd looking character; his story will have special appeal to children already familiar with the alphabet, who can appreciate the comical flow of the story. (3-6)

Rhinos Who Surf written and illustrated by Julie Mammano. Chronicle, 1996 (0-8118-1000-3) $10.95

Kids who enjoy wordplay will relish this amusing, offbeat look at a new "language." Rhinos who surf JAM to the beach to CARVE UP THE FACE, GO VERTICAL and SLAM THE LIP. When they're done, of course they are TOTALLY AMPED! Just listening to the sounds of this book is fun, but for further instruction there's also a glossary at the back. The watercolor illustrations replicate the exotic, brilliantly colored patterns of surfer clothes, for a hip, whimsical look. (5-8)

Ten Cats Have Hats by Jean Marzollo. Illustrated by David McPhail. Scholastic Cartwheel, 1994 (0-590-20656-7) $6.95

"One bear has a chair, but I have a hat," says a small child boastfully, showing off a baseball cap and jacket. And for each new group of things the child meets--two ducks with trucks, three trees with bees--he manages to find yet another hat to dress up in, usually an appropriate one. McPhail's distinctive, old-fashioned illustrations--looking like a cross between early Maurice Sendak and and nineteenth century advertisements-- bring out the silliness in this simple story, while adding some continuity to it. An easy first counting book. (2-4)

Museum ABC by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Little, Brown, 2002 (0-316-07170-6) $16.95.

This imaginative and exquisite alphabet book starts with the most basic of alphabet text, "A is for Apple," and shows that there are many different, beautiful ways to portray an apple: in a woodcut by Roy Lichtenstein, an oil painting by Paul Cezanne, a watercolor by Brian Connelly, and a greek painting on terracotta, for example. Each spread includes four beautifully reproduced details from artwork of varying cultures and periods; opposite the illustrations, a simple alphabet phrase is on an palate-clearing white background. It's simultaneously an art lesson, a history lesson and a great visual pleasure; I keep being entranced by "S is for Star," which shows stars brightly glowing in four thoroughly different ways, and by "E is for Eggs," which are variously in a nest, on a plate, cracked on the floor, and hatching out strange small children. (2 & up)

I Spy Two Eyes: Numbers in Art selected by Lucy Micklethwait. Greenwillow, 1993 (0-688-12640-5) $19.00; Mulberry, 1998 (0-688-16158-) $9.95 pb

An ordinary counting game becomes much more with this ingenious book, which reproduces works of art (from varied periods and styles) that have countable objects in them. Not only are the pictures attractive--and beautifully reproduced--but they are carefully and cleverly chosen, both to have interesting counting objects, and to draw the eye to parts of the artwork that might not otherwise be noticed. The first picture, accompanying the text "I spy one fly," points out an incongruous fly on the elaborate headdress of a fifteenth century woman. The sixteenth picture shows apples in a tree over a Madonna and child--and only after actually counting them did I realize that the sixteenth rosy apple is clutched in the baby's rosy hand. Noticing these details creates an increased feeling of intimacy with the artwork; by making the reader think about why the artists chose to include certain objects in a scene, it teaches art appreciation without ever saying a word about it. (3 & up)

I Spy: An Alphabet in Art selected by Lucy Micklethwait. Greenwillow, 1992 (0-688-11679-5); Mulberry, 1996 (0-688-14703-5) $8.95

Although I loved the follow-ups to this book, I Spy Two Eyes, I Spy a Lion and I Spy a Freight Train, this is the first time I've seen the original. Surprisingly enough, I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the others. As with the previous titles, the book reproduces (quite beautifully) 26 paintings and asks the reader to look for something in them, but this time rather than looking for a specific object, you look for something that begins with a letter of the alphabet. I found that actually having to think as I looked made the experience of looking less focused and intense than it was before; looking for a specific object somehow made me see the whole painting and wonder about what that object--sometimes something quite small and insignificant--was doing there. Perhaps some readers will have just the opposite experience. In any event, it's a gorgeous collection of art, including paintings with the kind of details that make a work seem child-friendly; children who especially enjoy "I Spy," or who liked the other books, should definitely give it a try. (3 & up)

My Friend Lucky written and illustrated by David Milgrim. Atheneum, 2002 (0-689-84253-8) $12.00

I love a good "opposites" book; somehow the very simplicity of the form seems to bring out the most imaginative possibilities. This book about a boy and his dog, with just two words per page and illustrations that seem a half-step beyond stick figures, could not look any simpler, but it is filled with wit and affection. The dog's name is Lucky, and he and his big-headed boy demonstrate opposites together: "Lucky's sad" when he's all alone; "Lucky's happy" when he finds his boy. "Lucky chases" a rabbit" and "Lucky's chased" by a whole herd of them. My favorite spread is "Lucky's loud" and "Lucky's quiet," which are exactly the same picture of Lucky madly barking--but in the second scene, his boy has put headphones on. The book ends with the words: "I love Lucky/Lucky loves me"... and we believe it. * (2-6)

City 123 photographed by Zoran Milich. Kids Can, 2005 (1-55337-540-8) $15.95

Photographs of city scenes reveal numbers all around: on streets, on buildings, on vehicles. The cleverly crafted photographs always show not only a numeral from 1 to 10, but that number of objects to count: in the first photograph, all of the people standing near a man wearing a "1" shirt are artistically blurred, so that only one person can be counted; a subway train stopping by a "4" has four red doors; seven skyscrapers are visible behind a lantern marked with a "7." Some of the scenes are clearly staged--six toy chicks on a fence, eight fireman's boots just waiting to be leaped into--but what they lose in authenticity, they gain in quirky charm. (1-4)

Can You Guess? written and illustrated by Margaret Miller. Greenwillow, 1993 (0-688-11180-7) $14.00

Lively, full-color photographs of playful toddlers charmingly illustrate this concept book, which asks questions about the uses of ordinary objects: "What do you put on your head? A cloud? An ice cream sundae? Underpants? A lunchbox? A hat!" The sharp, brilliant photographs are wonderfully animated and children will enjoy "reading" the silly suggestions from the pictures and guessing what answer is coming next. A nice touch is that the approach to the answers is essentially non-pejorative, offering no punishment for preferring the imaginative answers to the sensible ones. (1-4)

Guess Who? written and illustrated by Margaret Miller. Greenwillow, 1994 (0-688-12783-5) $15

Like Can You Guess? (see above), Guess Who? gives toddlers an irresistible opportunity to laugh at some silly scenarios while asserting their newfound knowledge of the world. Each section asks a question about different kinds of people and provides four improbable answers: "Who goes to school? Seagulls? Puppies? Umpires? Stuffed animals?" The question and each choice are illustrated by eye-catching photographs; turning the page, you find the fifth, correct answer, illustrated with a full-page photo.

Guess Who is educational and entertaining on numerous levels; even if toddlers don't know the answers to all the questions at first, they can enjoy laughing about each possibility and finding explanations for why they're wrong (or even making up explanations for how they could be right!). As always, Miller's photographs look wonderfully natural and unposed, with a brightness and clarity that are easy on young eyes; the children and adults shown are a nicely diverse mix of races, ages and styles. (2-4)

Where Does It Go? written and illustrated by Margaret Miller. Greenwillow, 1992; Mulberry, 1998 (0-688-15851-X) $4.95 pb

This concept book has just the right kind of humor to share with young children. The question-answer format asks "where does it go?" for a variety of objects, and comes up with some very silly answers each time: "Where does Tavo put his socks? Among the flowers? On his nose? On the dog's paw? In the wading pool?" Turn the page to find the answer, "On his feet!" Crisp, uncrowded photographs of each absurd possibility make the book even funnier, and the cast of child characters is unusually diverse and interesting. Perfect for story hours. (2-4)

Alphabet Fiesta by Anne Miranda. Illustrated by various. Turtle Books, 2001 (1-890515-29-9) $18.95; (1-890515-30-2) $12.95 pb

It's Zelda the zebra's birthday and many animal friends--from Armando the armadillo to Yul the yak--are on their way to her surprise party--a la fiesta sorpresa. Designed to give at least as much weight to Spanish as English, this book with both an English and a Spanish text was written to use as many words as possible that have the same sound in both languages, includes specifically Spanish letters such as ll, and was illustrated by English and Spanish speaking children in Spain. This is far more than a clever conceit: the illustrations are full of energy and wit and offer an ever-fresh variety of approaches, though the use of pen & ink and watercolors give some overall uniformity. I love the glasses-wearing Armando peering at his invitation, the exuberant Michael the monkey, who flies to the party on the handlebars of his mother's magnificent motorcycle, and Teresa the turtle, riding with a bunch of bored animal commuters on the train from Toledo. The final picture, drawn by the author, copies the unique style of each young artist to charmingly bring together all the different characters. (3-8)

Just a Minute written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. Chronicle, 2003 (0-8118-3758-0) $15.95

Count to ten, in English and Spanish, as a wily Grandma tricks Senor Calavera (i.e. Death) into passing her by: "Just a minute... I have just one house to sweep." With illustrations that are both beautifully colorful and very funny--the skeletal Senor Calavera is a hoot as he checks his his watch and impatiently rolls his... eyes?--this is a charmer from beginning to end. Winner of the 2004 Pura Belpre Award for Best Latino Illustrator. (4-8)

Work by Ann Morris. Photographed by various artists. Lothrop, 1998 (0-688-14866-2) $15.00

All over the world, people work," as this simply compelling photoessay shows. Animated photographs capture adults and children as they are totally absorbed in their work, whether it's tending animals, mashing yams or studying for a bar mitzvah. The moods of the photographs vary as much as the types of work--what doesn't change is the inspiring feeling that the workers care deeply about what they're doing. Perhaps the most interesting photo is the last, which shows a solemn group of boys from a Kenya service organization; at first glance, it seems an odd illustration of the idea that "work can make you feel good" but a closer look reveals a sense of togetherness and pride. (2-6)

V for Vanishing written and illustrated by Patricia Mullins. 1993; HarperTrophy, 1997 (0-06-0443471-0)

Endangered animals are the theme of this wistful alphabet book, which includes animals as exotic as Q for Quoll (from Australia) and as familiar as B for Butterfly (the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing of New Guinea.) With very little text, and with vital, exquisite collage illustrations that are expressive without being anthropomorphic, this is an attractive browsing alphabet for younger children; older readers will be sobered by the realization of how close these beautiful and indispensable animals are to joining the page for X--eXtinct. (3-8)

Construction Countdown by K.C. Olson. Illustrated by David Gordon. Henry Holt, 2004 (0-8050-6920-8)

This brief rhyming book begins with "Ten mighty dump trucks rolling down the road" and works its way down six grumbling graders and three busy backhoes before getting to a surprise: "One gigantic sandbox with room to drive them all!" Fun for big truck fans. (2-6)

href= isbn=9780694014224> Happy Easter, Mouse by Laura Numeroff. Illustrated by Felicia Bond. HarperCollins, 2010 (978-0-694-0142204) $6.99 board

After being happy to see the exuberant mouse from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie again, it was a little disappointing to realize that this is not one of the sophisticated circular tales of that series, but a simple concept book about colors. But closer inspection showed plenty to appreciate on that simpler scale.

Mouse has been decorating eggs for Easter. He wakes up in the morning to find a yellow egg under his covers. And who put those red eggs on the counter? And balanced the purple eggs in the table? Careful watchers will spot clues sneaking around some of the pages.

The illustrations are the highlight of this book. Aimed at younger children, they're less elaborate than those of the rest of the series, with lots of white space. But the expressiveness and detail remain. Mouse's bedcover is a beautifully detailed bandana, over which he looks thrilled by the egg he finds. He dashes excitedly around the house, finding eggs in charming little vignettes. There are quite a few visual references to Mouse's first book here, so older fans could enjoying sharing this with younger children. (1-3)

Two Crows Counting by Doris Orgel. Illustrated by Judith Moffatt. Bantam, 1995 (0-553-09741-5) $13.95; (0-553-37573-3) $3.99 pb

Children can practice both their reading and their counting skills as they enjoy the simple rhymes of this story. A big and small crow fly across a nicely-crafted collage landscape, seeing all sorts of active things like seven herons wading, eight geese parading, nine farmers haying and ten children playing. But on the way home the ten children are snoozing, the nine farmers snoring, the eight geese resting and the seven herons nesting. Eventually the big crow and the tuckered out small crow also wind up fast asleep in their nest. With its gentle up-and-down rhythm, this is a comfortable and beguiling read which will also make a cozy bedtime book. (3 & up)

Animal Action ABC written by Karen Pandell. Photographs by Art Wolfe and Nancy Sheehan. Dutton, 1996 (0-525-45486-1) $15.99

Action is the key word in this book, which imaginatively combines photographs of animals in the wild with crisp photos of children imitating them: Flapping their wings like a macaw, Growling like a grizzly, Howling like a wolf pup, even Inflating their throats like a frigatebird (with some help from a red balloon.) The pictures are very bright and glossy, but also spirited and dynamic. A rhyming text describes some of the habits of the different animals; notes in the back offer more detailed information. (3-7)

Bearobics by Vic Parker. Illustrated by Emily Bolam. Viking, 1997 (0-670-87034-X) $13.99; Puffin, 1999 (0-14-056494-2) $5.99 pb

It starts with the boom box of ONE shaggy bear. Soon TWO hoppin' kangaroos are joining in, THREE giggling gorillas start bopping and shoowapping... and even SIX lazy snakes do a hippy hippy shake. Boisterous and slyly silly, this rhyming book is a lively way to get from one to ten. Simple but humorously expressive watercolors are a bright accompaniment to the text. (3-6)

BIG Little; Quiet LOUD; Yummy YUCKY written and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli. Candlewick, 2003 (0-7636-1950-7) $6.99 ea. board book.

Against a background of bright, "baby gap" colored pages, an impish, round-headed toddler wearing only a diaper demonstrates various opposite concepts: "Slippers are quiet. Mommy's shoes are LOUD." "Ladies are BIG. Ladybugs are little." "Burgers are yummy. Boogers are yucky." (I can't tell you why "yucky" looses the capitalization.) These books satisfy on several levels: large, uncrowded shapes are easy on a baby's eyes, while many parents will appreciate the implicit lessons, while enjoying the light touch of contemporary humor and hipness. (Though personally, I could live without the boogers.) (1-3)

A Child's Day: an Alphabet of Play written and illustrated by Ida Pearle. Harcourt, 2008 (978-0-15-206552-2) $12.95

A child's day, as seen here, is one full of action, starting with a for act and ending with z for zoom. There's also blowing pinwheels, dancing, growing things and even some lazy napping. It's an enticing ideal, aptly illustrated with cut-paper collages of featureless children that call to mind old-fashioned silhouettes, except now brightly colored and excitingly textured. But Pearle takes the book beyond rose-colored nostalgia by peopling it with a modern, multicultural cast of children, using different skin tones, hair types, and sophisticated clothes patterns to portray a diversity of backgrounds. Some of the children may catch butterflies in a net, looking like something straight out of Tom Sawyer, but others are practicing martial art kicks or holding up their hands together to "unite." It's a very happy mix of old and new. (2-6)

Mary Wore Her Red Dress adapted and illustrated by Merle Peek. 1985; Clarion, 1998 (0-89919-324-2) $5.95

A simple, repetitive folk song is the inspiration for this picture book, which manages to endow it with both a plot and an intriguing concept lesson. In the first picture we see Mary, a squirrel, going through a gently shaded black and white forest; other than the text, boxed in red, the only color is Mary's red dress and its reflection in a pond. When we next see Mary, greeting raccoon Henry in his green sneakers, the background has acquired red houses in the distance; the third picture has both red and green, and so forth until every page is gayly colored. Meanwhile, the plot has also progressed, as all the animal characters gather together for Katy the bear's birthday party. The fine lines and delicate air of Peek's illustrations are well suited to the progression of color and she scatters amusing details throughout the pages; most of the furniture is carved with droll animal shapes, and a posters on the birthday girl's wall features a gracefully ice skating bear. (2-4)

Now also available as a read-along paperback book and CD package: Houghton Mifflin, 2006 (978-0-618-75249-2) $9.95

The Human Alphabet by Pilobus. Photographed by John Kane. Roaring Brook, 2005 (1-59643-066-4) $16.95

An inovative dance troupe and some clever photography come together to create an amazing visual treat. Not only do the dancers create each letter of the alphabet, by molding themselves together with astonishing balance and flexibility, but they also create an illustration for each letter for readers to guess. "C" goes with an entire Circus, in which a tightrope walker walks a human tightrope and a Strong Woman lifts living weights. Turn the page and see the dancers shot from surprising angles to form vividly staring Eyes. Not all of the images are as effective; some are extremely difficult to puzzle out, making the code at the back a real necessity. In general, though children will enjoy the unusualness of this book, its sophisticated air and complexity will be most appreciated by adults. (5 & up)

Wildflower ABC written and illustrated by Diana Pomeroy. Harcourt Brace, 1997 (0-15-201041-6) $15.00; Voyager, 2001 (0-15-202455-7) $6.00 pb.

Adults who remember clumsy potato print pictures from their childhood will be astonished by this artistic tour-de-force, which combines potato prints and watercolor- like acrylic paints to create amazingly delicate and beautiful depictions of wildflowers. It's a gorgeous alphabet for plant-lovers, although the elegant, muted shades fail to convey the vibrance of flowers like nasturtiums and poppies. Notes at the end tell some of the facts and legends relating to the wildflowers. (3-8)

How Much is a Million? by David M. Schwartz. Illustrated by Steven Kellogg. Lothrop, 1995; Mulberry, 1993 (0-688-099335)

How much is a million? It would take you 23 days to count to it. But that's nothing: it would take 95 years to count to a billion and almost 200,000 to count to a trillion! This clever, cartoon-style picture book uses these and other relative measurements to convey the size of millions, billions and trillions. The variety of measurements used--how tall a million kids standing on each other's shoulders would be, how large a bowl you'd need for a million goldfish--gives plenty for the imagination to work with, while the pictures amusingly illustrate the impossible concepts. (After 200,000 years of counting, there's nothing left of the book's characters but a row of tombstones.) Notes at the back explain the methods used in the calculations. This is not a visually exciting book, although the coloring is surprisingly delicate and attractive, but it succeeds well in its aim. (4-10)

This and That; Shake, Rattle and Roll by Keith R. Potter and Ken Faul. Illustrated by Keith R. Potter and Jana Leo. Chronicle, 1999 (0-8118-2179-X; 0-8118-2178-1) $6.95 each board book

I don't quite know what to make of these offbeat little board books, but I like them. Part of the "Doodlezoo" series, they feature a friendly cast of computer generated animals superimposed on nature photographs; the juxtaposition of "real" animals with their minimalistic, loose-limbed, smiling counterparts is intriguing and visually enticing. There seems some potential for confusion here, but also some exciting potential for grasping concepts about art and representation.

This and That, which looks at opposites by contrasting photographed animals and drawn ones--a real turtle is slow, while "Thom Fox" is fast--strikes me as more likely to be confusing, while the verb book Shake, Rattle and Roll , which shows both types of animals performing the same action, seems a lot more enlightening. (1-3)

Count On Me written and illustrated by Alice Provensen. Harcourt Brace, 1998 (0-15-201510-8) $14.95

This attractively packaged, novelty counting book set set comes with ten small board books in a box, one for each number from one to ten. Each book also has a different theme: book one invites readers to count animal babies, book two looks at traffic and book ten counts different kinds of berries. Neither the lightly rhyming text nor the small watercolor pictures are particularly striking, but just playing with the books in their boxes will help reinforce the numbers and their order. (1-4)

The Handmade Alphabet illustrated by Laura Rankin. Dial, 1991; Puffin, 1996 (0-14-055876-4) $4.99 pb

Concept and execution are perfectly blended in this memorable look at the American Sign Language manual alphabet, which shows beautifully drawn hands interacting with appropriate objects while they form the position of each letter: translucent, rainbow-edged bubbles float past the hand demonstrating B, a fragile cup dangles from the thumb of the hand forming C. The most fascinating image might be the E, being slowly erased by a pencil... or maybe the dragonfly delicately perching on D... or the J which swipes a little jam as it moves through the air... or the skeletal vision of X...

Perhaps it's because the basic idea seems so simple that this end product is somehow so astonishing. The graceful elegance of the finely drawn pictures, the imaginative placement of the objects, and the beautiful natural variations of the hands--black and white, old and young--all add up to an incredible visual statement, showing that hand communication, like vocal communication, is more than just the formation of words. Whether or not you have any interest in the manual alphabet, this is a book too special to miss. * (4 & up)

One by One; Ten Pink Piglets written and illustrated by Mary Rayner. Dutton, 1994 (0-525-45240-0; 0-525-45241-9) $5.99 each

The hero of the "Garth Pig" books and nine of his porcine friends cheerfully illustrate these singing/counting books loosely based on the old songs "The Ants Go Marching" and "99 Bottle of Beer." In One by One the piglets march along a country lane, occasionally distracted by fun and mischief along the way. In Ten Pink Piglets, the piglets jump off a wall, one by one--with a drooling wolf underneath adding a touch of comic suspense. All ends well, as we discover they been jumping into the back of a truck which drives them away from the chagrined wolf. These are simple, unsophisticated books, whose light, pastel-colored drawings give them a pleasant, pastoral tone; children will enjoy singing the songs, although the Ten Pink Piglets verse isn't a good fit for the tune I know.

One Duck Stuck by Phyllis Root. Illustrated by Jane Chapman. Candlewick, 1998 (0-7636-0334-1) $15.99; 2003 (0-7636-1566-8) $5.99 pb.

A joyful mix of unforced rhyme, catchy rhythm, strong repetition and singing alliteration, this counting book is particularly good to read aloud. Set in the marshes of Minnesota, it shows how an assortment of wetlands creatures, from two fish to ten dragonflies, tries to save one duck who's stuck in the deep green marsh. All the animals do what they do best--the fish try to splash the duck out, the dragonflies try to carry it away--but though each noisy action causes the duck to flinch or gyrate, he remains stuck. Finally the animals realize that together they can get the duck to gyrate his way out. Chapman's valiant efforts to illustrate the complicated resolution may fall short for some bewildered readers, but overall this is a very appealing book, with a unaffected but expressive look that's just right for the vigorous text. (3-6)

Ten Sleepy Sheep by Phyllis Root. Illustrated by Susan Gaber. Candlewick, 2004 (0-76361545) $15.99

Fall asleep by counting sheep, from 10 to 1. Short, soporific verses count down as ten playful sheep give in to slumber, one by one. Illustrations show a lively farm setting, growing darker and more peaceful with each page, until finally the last wakeful sheep nestles by her mama under a sky full of glowing stars and a full moon. (2-5)

A Big and Little Alphabet by Liz Rosenberg. Illustrated by Vera Rosenberry. Orchard Books, 1997 (0-531-30050-1) $15.95

A step beyond most alphabet books, A Big and Little Alphabet finds unexpected delight in one of the most basic facts about the alphabet: that it comes in two forms. Instead of simply having A for Armadillo and Z for Zebra, each letter is represented by two animal-people, one big, one small. Although the two characters do essentially the same things--Big B buys a bike, Little b buys a bike--the illustrations comically and aptly demonstrate the difference between being "big" and "little": Big Z rests and catches some Z's, which are then caught by Little z in his butterfly net; Big N says no to a disgusting dish but Little n says no way! nothing doing! Each antic scene features lots of objects beginning with the appropriate letter (with a list in the back for those confounded by ibis or newts.) The caricature style of the illustration sometimes seems overdone and unfortunately, the author didn't manage to solve the notorious X problem, but overall this is a very successful book, both for teaching the alphabet and for sheer fun. (3-8)

My Love For You written and illustrated by Susan L. Roth. Dial, 1997 (0-8037-2031-9) $12.99

This addition to a very popular genre takes a less syrupy and more educational approach than most, but without sacrificing its underlying tenderness. The main characters are a white and brown mouse, presumably parent and child (although the author may have left the question open with thoughts of Valentines Day sales in mind.) The protective white mouse confides that "My love for you... is bigger than 1 bear, taller than 2 giraffes," and so on. Muted collages with a gentle, wistful air illustrate the animals, sometimes with basic realism, like the wonderfully textured, crumpled-paper-bag bear, and sometimes with colorful absurdly, like the bright pythons decorated with cut-out squares and triangles. The text is very simple but well designed, with pauses in the counting to give it a more readable rhythm and to allow some illustrated interactions for the mouse pair. This can be read as a counting book, wiith a nod at concepts like "tall" and "wide" or just as a pleasant way of expressing love. (2-6)

The Butterfly Alphabet written and illustrated by Kjell B. Sandved. Scholastic, 1996; 1999 (0-439-07947-0) $5.99 pb

Inspired by the award-winning "Butterfly Alphabet" poster, this book gives a closer look at some breathtaking photography. Each photo shows the wing of a different butterfly, in which a letter of the alphabet is almost magically found. The book doesn't have the visual impact of the poster, in which all the brilliantly colored "letters" follow each other with stunning effect, but it does let us see the amazing way that tiny scales of different colors form the letters; a photo of the entire butterfly on the opposite page shows the letter pattern in its surroundings, often almost impossible to find in a myriad of other patterns.

This is such an amazing work it almost seems petty to criticize, but a cloyingly sentimental text, featuring gooey lines like "Nature's angels fill the skies/In twinkling butterfly disguise," really adds nothing to it. The design of the book also falls short by not distinguishing capital and small letters, which may be confusing for those just learning the alphabet; you can hardly blame the photographer for making use of whichever he could find, but the distinction could easily have been clarified within the text. But it's a minor drawback to a fascinating visual experience. (4 & up)

K is for Kiss Good Night by Jill Sardegna. Illustrated by Michael Hays. Doubleday, 1994; Dell Picture Yearling 1996 (0-440-41218-8) $ 6.99 pb

As three young children from different families quietly get ready for bed, a soothing, alphabetic text evokes nighttime rituals and images: "pillow deep and downy, quilt pulled high beneath my chin, robe hanging on the bedpost, seeing shapes on the ceiling." The soft, impressionist pictures of cherubic-looking children get dimmer and more muted, as the children get cozier and closer to sleep. Fine just as a bedtime book, this is also a natural-feeling, unforced introduction to the progression of the alphabet. (2-4)

More Than One by Miriam Schlein. Illustrated by Donald Crews. Greenwillow, 1996 (0-688-14102-1) $15.00

This unusual look at numbers demonstrates that a plain "one" can contain multitudes. For example, one pair of shoes is two shoes, one week is seven days and one baseball team is nine players--and one family can be two people, three people, or even more. It sounds very obvious, but it's actually quite an intriguing concept, as well as the first step to many more difficult ideas. Crew's watercolor illustrations are very direct, with the objects plainly drawn against white backgrounds--easy to count, up to a point. He gives more life to shapes than he does to faces, though. (4-8)

One Boy written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Roaring Brook, 2008 (978-1-59643-274-1) $14.95

You always get something extra in a concept book by Seeger. This one is a counting book to begin with, but as the pages are turned, cut out pictures also demonstrate how words can be contained by other words: one boy is all alone, six cars turn out to be toys on the carpet. The surprises are fun--ten ants in your pants!--and there's a satisfying framing device, as all the pictures turn out to have been drawn by the one boy, who is now all done. Illustrated with bright, primary colors, this is a terrific choice to share with inquisitive toddlers, who can soak up information about words and reading without even realizing it. (2-5)

Black? White! Day? Night! written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Roaring Brook, 2006 (1-59643-185-7) $16.95

Simple? Complicated! Or as the best opposite books always are, both. Nothing is what it seems in this very clever book, in which broad, childlike pictures framed in bright primary colors become their own opposites when a flap is lifted. A change in perspective makes "near?" into "far!"; a face that seems "sad?" is actually just the nose on one that is quite "happy!"; even a black square "nothing?" is revealed to be part of "something!" A nitpicky reader will notice that the premise falters once or twice, and since the book is quite fat, I wonder why the less succesful combinations weren't just left out. But that is a small flaw in an otherwise cunningly simple and straightforwardly complicated book. (3 & up)

The Hidden Alphabet illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Roaring Brook, 2003 (0-7613-1941-7) $17.95.

The letters of the alphabet are generally the starting off point of alphabet books. This one approaches the alphabet from the other direction: each page shows a picture of an object, an arrowhead, balloons, a cloud. But when a flap is raised, the original picture becomes part of the background of an artfully created letter. The arrowhead is the hole in the A, the two balloons are colorful holes in a starry sky B. Each picture is beautifully crafted, and it is quite intriguing to observe how the artist uses color, shading and repetition to make the objects effectively disappear. As much an art lesson as an alphabet.

Tomorrow's Alphabet by George Shannon. Illustrated by Donald Crews. Greenwillow, 1996 (0-688-13504-8) $16.00; Mulberry, 1999 (0-688-16424-2) $5.95 pb

We all know A is for Apple, but did you know that A can be for seed? In tomorrow's alphabet it is--and B is for eggs, tomorrow's Birds. This clever book will have even the most jaded young reader longing to know what comes next, as they enjoy being confident enough of their alphabet skills to have some fun with them. Crew's relaxed illustrations make the concepts very clear, using repeated colors and shapes to relate an object's "today" to its "tomorrow." (5-8)

Rocket Countdown written and illustrated by Nick Sharratt. Candlewick, 1995 (1-56402-322-1)

In this backwards counting book, pull-tabs and flaps help a cheerful young astronaut with his preparations for blast off as he counts down from 10 to 1. Each brightly colored picture gets the reader into the action, letting him put on the astronaut's helmet, fasten his seat belt and finally, make him wave good-bye. Next to the many elaborate pull-tab books on the market nowadays, this one has a refreshing and effective simplicity, especially appealing to readers with a taste for unsophisticated gizmos. (2-5)

Counting Crocodiles by Judy Sierra. Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. Gulliver, 1997 (0-15-200192-1) $15.00

As the old saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade--and living on an island with only a sour lemon tree for food, the monkey heroine of this tale has obviously learned that lesson well. So when she spots a banana tree on a nearby island, separated from her by a sea full of toothy crocodiles, she cleverly figures out how make use of her enemies to add bananas to her diet without adding monkey to theirs.

This version of a Pan-Asian folktale makes a fun mix of trickster tale and counting book, told in rhyme to boot. Sierra finds innumerable (well, at least nine) silly rhymes for "crocs," and the fast-paced, whimsical text is matched with lively scenes full of absurd, delightful details--like the box of "croc treats" which looks just like a box of animal crackers, except that the animals drawn on its side are the monkey and her friends. (3-6)

What Color? photographed by Anthea Sieveking. Dial, 1991 (0-8037-0909-9); Puffin, 1995 (0-14-055462-9) $4.99 pb

This attractive book introduces the concept of color through bright, lively photographs of babies and toddlers at play. Each child is shown wearing and playing with objects of one color, but the subjects are so adorably photogenic that the total effect is far from monochromatic. Simple, effective, and appealing. (1-4)

The Monster Book of ABC Sounds written and illustrated by Alan Snow. Dial, 1991

Snow could probably have made three books out of this complex and creative story. A hide-and-seek game is underway between the rats and the monsters--the rats are seeking. As a rhyming text describes the hunt, the pictures show the monsters being found, one by one, each in a room filled with words beginning with a letter of the alphabet. Each scene also features some "ABC sounds" as the monsters and rats scream "Aaaaah," go "Boo," whisper "Cooeee!" and so forth. Each crowded, bustling picture is framed by letters and little drawings of more alphabet words, for an even more striking effect. This isn't a book to teach the alphabet with, but children who have mastered the basics can reinforce them while enjoying a really funny, silly story.

B is for Bulldozer by June Sobel. Illustrated by Melissa Iwai. Gulliver, 2003 (0-15-202250-3) $16.00; Voyager, (0-15-205774-9) $6.00 pb

Over the course of a year, children enjoy watching lots of different big machines at a construction site: "I see a Crane way up high in the sky, and a rusty red Dump truck rumbling by." At the end of the year--and the alphabet--"the Underpass barrier is taken away. Now Visitors enter--it's opening day!" And the children enjoy their new amusement park, as they get set to Z-o-o-m! Although not particularly distinctive, this is a fun story for kids. (2-5)

Ten Flashing Fireflies by Philemon Sturges. Illustrated by Anna Vojtech. North-South, 1995 (1-55858-420-X) $14.95; (1-55858-674-1) $6.95

The cool, quiet darkness of a calm summer night, where mysterious woodland creatures are barely revealed by the glow of a firefly's light, makes a soft, dreamy background for this nighttime counting rhyme. A little girl and boy happily count up to ten as they catch fireflys in a jar--but when they have all ten, they realize it's far more fun to watch the fireflys fly free, and let them go again. Using slight, subtle changes in each verse, this simple rhyming story nicely combines the pleasures of repetition and variety. The increasingly dim pictures are visually challenging but appealing.

Little Monster's Book of Opposites by Frances Thomas. Illustrated by Ross Collins. Bloomsbury, 2005 (1-58234-980-0) $5.95 board

Little Monster, an odd, non-threatening creature-child with various horns and stripey appendages, shows us opposites in a short rhyming text. We see that the opposite of hot is cold, and the opposite of young is old. (Charmingly illustrated with an elderly stripey monster lovingly patting Little Monster on the head.) At the end of the book, Little Moster wistfully wonders, "what's the opposite of me?" What, indeed. (1-3)

Red is a Dragon by Roseanne Thong. Illustrated by Grace Lin. Chronicle, 2001 (0-8118-3177-9) $13.95

In easy rhyme, a little girl describes the colors of various things she sees in her daily life: "Yellow are raincoats and bright rubber boots/Yellow is a taxi that honks and toots." What makes this book stand out from so many similar color books is that the little girl is Chinese-American, and her daily life includes some things that aren't so familiar to many readers: "Green is a bracelet made of jade/Green is the purse my auntie made. Pink are an opera singers eyes/And a silk fan that hides her surprise." The sharply outlined illustration, with their intricate designs, reflect the way East & West traditions combine comfortably in the little girl's life: the characters sometimes wear beautifully embroidered traditional garb, but they also have ordinary yellow raincoats and boots for rainy days. A glossary at the end describes some of the lesser known items. (3-8)

Round is a Mooncake by Roseanne Thong. Illustrated by Grace Lin. Chronicle, 2000 0-8118-2676-7) $14.95

This book of shapes follows the same pattern as Red is a Dragon (see above.) Many objects, some familiar to most readers, some specific to Chinese-American life, are used to describe shapes: "Round are the rice bowls in our house/Round are the eyes of my curious mouse." Lin uses plenty of shapes in her illustrations, for readers to enjoy finding. A glossary is also included. (3-8)

Baby Snake's Shapes written and illustrated by Neecy Twinem. Rising Moon, 2004 (0-87358-850-9) $5.95

Rich, textured pictures reminiscent of Keith Baker's work give an attractive Southwestern setting to this short board book, in which a yellow and red striped snake encounters various shapes: hatching out of a smooth oval egg, slithering out of rough rectangle rocks, and finally falling fast asleep coiled up in a circle. (1-3)

Over in the Meadow illustrated by Louise Voce. Candlewick, 1994 (0-76361-285-5) $19.99 "big book"

Learning to count is a pleasure with this faithful version of a classic English counting rhyme. Each verse describes a mother animal and her brood, from the one little turtle in the sand by the sun to the ten little foxes in their cozy little den. The jolly, bug-eyed faces of Voce's animals add a rollicking touch to the very readable verses, while her light watercolors, in yellows, greens and browns, suit the pastoral setting. (3-6)

Mouse Paint written and illustrated by Ellen Stoll Walsh. Harcourt Brace, 1989; 1995 (0-15-200265-0) $6.00; (0-15-200118-2) $5.00 pb

Three white mice who live on a white piece of paper discover the joys of mixing colors after climbing into three jars of red, yellow and blue paint. When the newly red mouse steps into a yellow puddle and does a little dance, he discovers that "red feet in a yellow puddle make orange!" Similar exciting discoveries await the yellow and blue mice. The goofy story and simple but vivid collage illustrations make this color lesson very entertaining. (2-4)

How Many How Many How Many by Rick Walton. Illustrated by Cynthia Jabar. Candlewick, 1993 (1-56402-062-2) $14.95; (1-56402-656-6) $6.99 pb.

A good educational book just has to be fun, and this cleverly crafted, exuberantly illustrated counting book makes learning about numbers a joy. Told in lilting rhyme, it asks "how many?" for items from 1 ("He is nimble. He is quick. How many jump the candlestick?") to 12 ("Holidays are almost here. How many months make up a year?"), while twelve happy children, each in charge of a different number, frolic through the brightly surreal scratchboard pictures. The different number examples are chosen to begin with the safely familiar and then expand to slightly more complex groups children will enjoy learning, such as how many legs ants have and how many reindeer pull Santa's sleigh. When the book is done, a list at the back reveals twelve extra groups to look for in the pictures, like the three blind mice jazz band found in the garden of the three bears. Both children and adults will love this one. (3-6)

Forest Bright, Forest Night by Jennifer Ward. illustrated by Jamichael Henterly. Dawn, 2005 (978-1-58469-089-4) $7.95 board

Count to ten twice, first with a forest by day, then with a forest by night. In the day, a deer splashes, two bear cubs tumble and three woodpeckers tap; at night three opposums peek, four foxes prowl and five skunks amble. Despite the many active verbs--"chatter and chase... chipmunks race/strut and wobble... turkeys gobble"--the short rhyming text reads very soothingly, in conjunction with the naturalistic but slightly dreamy pictures, making this book seem just right for bedtime. On the other hand, you might want to allow more time to explore some of the captivating detail in the illustrations. The day and night sections each contain the other's opposite: an owl sleeps while the deer splashes during the day; at night, the "owl eyes search" while the deer curls up to sleep. The animals blend intriguingly with their natural surroundings; I particularly like the woodpecker that's just barely visible through a knothole. Perhaps best of all, each page has its number somewhere blended into the background: a sleeping salamander's tail curves into a six, moss on a log forms an eight. These pictures are so packed with interest, the book is probably even better in its larger picture book form. (2-8)

Calavera Abecedario written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter. Harcourt, 2004 (0-15-205220-4) $16.00.

Loosely inspired by Don Pedro Linares, a skilled maker of cartoneria (papier-mache objects), this book opens with several pages describing the Linares family making calaveras (skeletons) for the Day of the Dead. This leads into the real meat of the book, a strikingly illustrated Spanish alphabet featuring very busy skeletons: a Bruja stirs a potion, a Jardinero waters plants and a merry Ilustradoradraws pictures for children. Traditional colorful clothing against a deep black background make the pictures eye-catching and there are some lovely visual touches, like a skeleton Frieda Kahlo ("K) drawing a self-portrait, and a skeleton doctor who manages to look very concerned for his patient, despite his lack of skin or actual features. A final spread showing all the skeletons together makes me wish the book were bigger: it would make a gorgeous poster. (3-12)

Big Black Bear written and illustrated by Wong Herbert Yee. Houghton Mifflin, 1993 (0-395-66359-8); 1996 (0-395-77942-1) $4.95 pb

When a Big Black Bear drops in on a little girl in a Brown Brick House, she tries to make him welcome--but the bear soon shows that he's not much of a covering his mouth when he coughs. Incidentally, he's also making a total wreck of the house! But when the Big Black Bear boasts "I've eaten other girls and now I'll EAT you!" he's quickly put in his place--by another bear twice his size, who makes LITTLE Black Bear apologize. Told in lilting verse that reads aloud wonderfully, and illustrated with bold, energetic shapes, this is one of the more pleasing picture books about minding ones manners. Children will enjoy the comic incongruity between what the bear is doing and what he's getting scolded for, but they'll also appreciate the forgiving message about getting carried away. (4-8)

Elfabet by Jane Yolen. Illustrated by Lauren Mills. 1990; Little, Brown, 1997 (0-316-96888-9) $8.95 miniature edition

Picture the "Flower Fairies" with attitude and you'll get a sense of this book, which is both a tribute to and a parody of Cicely Mary Barker's famous illustrations. As in the Flower Fairies, the pictures include delicately attractive drawings of flowers--but their grotesque little gnomes are hardly flowerlike. The most successful pictures bring a sense of the delightful possibilities of being small to the alliterative text: the Orange Elf, "often overflowing," is shown pumping orange juice into black olive jars; the Yo-yo Elf, "youthfully yodeling," sit on his toy and swings by like Tarzan. (3 & up)

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