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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ten Birds, written and illustrated by Cybele Young. Kids Can Press, 2011. $18.95 ages 3 and up

"The one they called
 "Quite Advanced"
engineered her way.
Bubbling, she left
EIGHT behind."

Here's a counting book with a difference!

It is not at all what we have come to consider typical of its ilk; they are often designed with bright and colorful pictures and an upfront math format. Rather, its pages are  filled with pen-and-ink framed artwork that offers an invitation to observe carefully each new page and to encourage its readers to think critically about the drama as it unfolds.

Those illustrations are drawn on ivory background with little to take the child's attention from the job at hand...counting down from 10 to 1. There are ten little birds here whose obvious and immediate task it is to cross the river that is right in front of them. As they proceed toward a host on interesting and somewhat familiar objects, we are left to guess how they will be used to achieve that end. The birds wander through the collection, poking and contemplating. It is the "Brilliant" one who takes the first step and leaves all others behind him. Thus begins this 'witty fable about ingenuity and common sense'. Once the brilliant one has devised stilts to march himself across, will the others be able to follow in his footsteps?

This amazing author does everything right. Her language ups the appeal for the youngest reader and for older ones alike, using report card vernacular to describe each of the birds, which adds more humor to the telling. As well she relates each attempt with always changing phrases....'figured it out', 'devised a plan' 'found a solution'; all the while extending our vocabulary. She capitalizes the numbers in the text (SIX) and shows its visual counterpart beneath it, in the smaller illustration. Leave it to 'needs improvement' to find the simplest of all solutions!

Kids might question why the birds didn't just fly across the river? They fly away from it! Where would be the fun in reading such distinct and imaginative fare be if that happened?'s worth reading again and then again.

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