Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Numbering The Years

Do you remember playing hide and seek with the neighborhood kids as it started to get dark?  Whether you were "it" or running toward the ultimate hiding spot, the sounds of counting rang out.  Using a well-known, tuneful chant, our group reached one hundred by fives.  When the top number was reached you could hear those familiar words, "Here I come, ready or not."  It was like a rite of passage when you were old enough to play by counting correctly.

The act of counting is such a part of our lives, once accomplished, we are unaware of the actual amount of times it is used during our day.  In an enlightening and uncommon take on numbers, author, Lola M. Schaefer with illustrator, Christopher Silas Neal, has created Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives (Chronicle Books).  Let's explore their world with a mathematical eye.

In one lifetime,
this spider will spin
1 papery egg sac.

Fragile. Don't touch.

From cover to cover we read about eleven animals, five mammals, one arachnid, one insect, two reptiles, one fish and one bird, eleven fascinating facts, and eleven ways to count those intriguing details. Within these pages we think, look and tally.  We pause and ponder about what we might notice if we stopped to look more carefully.

Each animal's life is not measured in days so much as it is measured in physical changes, cycles and instinctive habits.  An individual caribou gets not one, not two, not even three but ten sets of antlers during their life.  I know that Xena sheds her coat twice a year but an alpaca does so much less.

Whenever I hear a woodpecker I'll be thinking to myself, is that the second, fourth, sixth or thirtieth house they are carving out of a tree?  The louder a rattlesnake's rattle might mean it has more beads.  How can forty beads fit on the tip of its tail?

Can you guess which Australian marsupial has fifty babies in a lifetime?  I'll bet you'll be surprised not only at the sea mammal who never gets a new tooth but how many teeth they actually have.  Roaming the African savannas is an animal whose adult height and number of spots are a match.

Alligator eggs, butterfly visits to flowers and seahorse births leap from 550 to 1,000.  As the numbers climb our eyes wander from leaf tips to tree trunks, forests to barns and under the sea.  We travel the world number by number, animal by animal.

Lola M. Schaefer begins her book with an introductory explanation of her numerical estimations. She includes factors which might affect these numbers and the experts whose advice she sought.  For each animal she begins with In one lifetime...  Using this phrase repeatedly ties each animal to the one before and after it.  For most she provides a conversational aside.  It's like she is speaking with her readers instead of at them.

At the conclusion of the title, The Animals, the common and scientific name of each are given along with several informative paragraphs.  A computation including the average adult life span further instructs on how Schaefer got her numbers.  In What is an average?  she defines average with an example and how she used averages in this book.  Finally, in a special section, Lola M. Schaefer reveals I love math.  She provides readers with an opportunity to quiz themselves with story problems.

Gazing among the rows of trees on the matching jacket and cover, woodpeckers busy making homes, each hollow numbered, readers realize they're about to take a walk into the world of counting among nature.  Opening and closing endpapers in black feature an alligator with numbers like air coming from its mouth.  Matte-finished paper increases the tactile experience.

Rendered in mixed media, the two page illustrations for each animal by Christoper Silas Neal showcase the individual behavior.  It won't take readers long to discover (second animal for me) that for every number listed Silas pictures the exact amount.  Yes, I did count the 100 spots on the giraffe but not all the teeny-weeny, squiggly-wiggly baby seahorses.

How he chose to illuminate each animal, using a solid background, black, white, green, blue or a combination of two, draws the reader's eye immediately to the intended feature.  His technique of including delicate, intricate details with simple bold elements is appealing in design and layout.  I would not hesitate to hang my favorite illustration, the swallowtail butterfly on black among flowers colored white, blue and yellow, on the walls in my home.

I have been turning the pages again and again of Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives written by Lola M. Schaefer with illustrations by Christopher Silas Neal for several days.  The pairing of Schaefer's information with Neal's illustrations is completely captivating.  This title could serve as a means of presenting mathematical averages to students or for the beginning of a research project.

Wouldn't it be fun for students to make pages like these? ...to make their own book?  To learn more about the author and illustrator follow the links to their websites embedded in their names above.  If you click on Christopher Silas Neal's link to his blog, you can see more pictures found in this book.   I would pair this with Bugs by the Numbers: facts and figures for multiple types of bugbeasties by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss. Recently Jen reviewed at Teach Mentor Texts: Using Mentor Texts to Promote Literacy, Million, Billions & Trillions: Understanding Big Numbers by David A. Adler, which would also be a good match.


  1. Fascinating! What an awesome way to look at counting and numbers while also digging into learning more about animals. I recently reviewed Millions, Billions and Trillions and enjoyed looking at big numbers. :)

    1. I'll have to link your review of Millions, Billions and Trillions to this post. I think it's great when nonfiction books are not only informative but engaging for readers. Sometimes mathematical concepts can be tricky but these books make it easier to visualize those larger numbers.