Exquisite watercolor-and–gold-leaf paintings of animals and objects that look as if they tumbled out of medieval illuminated manuscripts distinguish this counting book.
The book starts off simply enough: “One cherry, one cheetah.” A background of textured gold and bluish-purple, embellished with biomorphic designs, completes the spread. Two regal dogs appear, with “two balls, one big, one small.” “Three bears, three bowls, three silver spoons” follow, but why are there just three berries to go along with “four fine foxes, sharing strawberries.” The seven giant pandas have only five parasols. Then the book really breaks the mold. Now there are “Ten cherries, one cheetah.” Those dark red, glistening cherries look good enough to eat; the last page shows the sated cheetah, with 10 cherry pits neatly lined up, and the text reads: “No cherries, one cheetah. / None, all gone.” But the cheetah is still here. The front endpapers display unordered floating numerals (1 through 10), the cheetah, and the cherry, but no other numerals appear until the end. A chart showing the numerals and the associated flora or fauna (with cherry but sans cheetah) is found on the back endpapers. These pictures differ slightly from the inside pages, and sometimes the attendant objects are omitted.
The aesthetic pleasures are very strong, but one-on-one adult guidance will be necessary to help young mathematicians make sense of these complex images. (Picture book. 4-6)