The Mathical Book Prize is an annual award organized by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI). With an aim to “inspire a love of mathematics in the everyday world in children of all ages,” the winners are selected by a nationwide committee of mathematicians, librarians, teachers, and early childhood experts.
Looking through the winners, there are some fantastic choices. Among them are three innovative counting books for children in the early years that offer mathematical opportunities beyond the typical counting book. Read how they introduce young children to the principals that underlie the process of counting while having loads of fun.
Baby Goes to Market by Atinuke (2018 winner)
Set in a bustling Nigerian market, this book invites readers to bounce along with happy Baby, snug on Mama’s back. Baby charms and delights the vendors so much that he is given gifts—6 bananas, 5 oranges, 4 biscuits, 3 corn, and 2 pieces of coconut—unbeknownst to Mama who is too busy shopping to notice. Baby samples one of each kind of food and then places the rest in Mama’s basket atop her head. The visual humor of the illustrations let us in on the joke as Mama worries that Baby must be getting very hungry, having had nothing to eat.
This book provides an appealing context for acting out market stories, counting and putting groups of foods into a basket. And, not only does this book have a counting down structure, it introduces the number relationship of one less. With every gift of food, Baby puts one less in the basket. He starts with 6 bananas, but only 5 bananas go into Mama’s basket, and so on. What if Baby is given 7 yams, how many go in the basket? What about 8 beans?
Count the Monkeys by Mac Barnett (honor title)
Get ready to count monkeys, announces the narrator. Yet, there are no monkeys to be found. Instead, we find a series of different and more numerous animals that have scared the monkeys away. The narrator asks readers to play along in a wild search to find the monkeys, which gets more ridiculous with every turn of the page.
Delightfully silly, this book provides interactive counting opportunities that naturally reinforce one-to-one correspondence. The narrator instructs us, “Say ‘thank you’ six times, very politely” to 6 sweet, old beekeepers who shoo away a swarm of bees. Later, we are told to give 8 lumberjacks each a high five for taking care of a pack of wolves.
Alas, the narrator runs out of pages before getting to count any monkeys. A perfect time to talk about what 0 monkeys means.
8: An Animal Alphabet by Elisha Cooper (2016 winner)
This book works as an alphabet book, a counting book, and a compendium of weird-but-true animal facts. An alphabet book because over 150 animals are organized from A to Z. A counting book because one animal on each page is pictured 8 times. A “Did you know?” section at the end provides fun facts and helps readers identify the less familiar animals.
The most unique quality of this counting book, however, is the opportunity to find a group of 8 animals on each page. Cooper makes the hunt a fun challenge since the animal that is pictured eight times is not necessarily in the same pose or depicted at the same age or with the same coloring. Discussions of attributes and sorting are bound to happen as readers seek and find sets of 8 on each page. Counting, yes, but which ones are we counting? This book reinforces the importance of naming the unit when labeling the quantity of a set.