Quote of the Month

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

Friday, November 29, 2013

Mathematical Cure

We all have those nights when sleep alludes us despite our heartfelt endeavors to drift off to dreamland.  When soaking in a hot bath, warm milk with a touch of honey, relaxing music or reading a favorite or current book does not entice the sandman to visit, there is only one thing left to do.  As a last resort counting sheep, as one by one a seemingly endless line leaps over a fence, may cure your insomnia.

We know from his two previous titles, Dog Loves Books (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010) and Dog Loves Drawing (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), our small, white, perky canine pal is usually able to accomplish whatever his heart desires.  In his newest undertaking, Dog Loves Counting (Alfred A. Knopf), written and illustrated by Louise Yates, Dog knows the proper amount of rest is important.  For whatever reason, on this particular night, this bookworm extraordinaire can't fall asleep.

Dog loved books.  He loved reading
them late into the night and didn't like
to leave them for long.

Needing to sleep Dog tries counting sheep.  When this technique fails, he wonders if counting some other animal might be the solution.  Looking through the books surrounding him on his bed, he begins with a very special title.

What he sees first is one egg.  After cracking open, a dodo is standing next to Dog.  Now there are two.  They go off to discover another creature.

When the sloth waves, Dog notices his three claws.  This number game is going very well.  The three explore further to find a fourth.

A camel from the desert, a lizard under a log, and an insect snagged from the air have the growing group up to the number six.  Number nine is reached with help from a nighttime marauder, an arachnid, and a sleepy armored mammal.  A sandy shoreline yields their final friend, the number ten.  Dog is having so much fun, he is disappointed when they reach the camel's home; no animals are visible.

Not to be discouraged, Dog suggests they begin counting from the beginning.  To their surprise number one has disappeared.  Whether counting backward or counting by hundreds, Dog and company realize, like the grains of sand beneath their feet, numbering some things could go on forever.

Louise Yates' writing style in her storytelling is light, uplifting.  Her combination of narrative, thoughts and dialogue are utterly charming.  Though simple in structure, each sentence conveys intent, curiosity, the desire for companionship and to help Dog fall asleep.  Dog's compassion and kindness are reflected in each of the animals he meets. Here is a single example.

Inside was a baby dodo.
"Hello, little one," said Dog.
He looked around, but
the dodo was
all alone.
"I'll look after you," said Dog. "Together
we are two.  Number One, follow me---
we must find Number Three."

I don't know about you but the matching jacket and cover of this title make me smile...a big smile.  Even if you are not acquainted with Dog from reading the two previous books, this illustration, filled with happy animation in the body language and facial expressions, introduces characters you will be glad to meet.  To reinforce the title by having them carry the bright blue numbers is brilliant.

The same blue is used to color the opening and closing endpapers.  A lighter shade depicts a starry-patterned night.  The first set of endpapers shows connections between the stars forming numbers; the end set also shows connections but of the animals who participate in the story.  As I have noted before Yates uses every part of her books to tell her tale.

Louise Yates luminous watercolor illustrations may extend across two pages or even for most of a single page with loose flowing edges but for the most part white space serves to focus on the individual elements in each picture.  As the animals are presented to readers their number and name are written near them, like in a naturalist's sketchbook.  Yates enhances the text further with random acts of kindness and humor; Dog carries the sloth due to his slowness, the skink spits the fly back out of his mouth to count its legs, and the spider spins a web between the armadillo's ears.  Dog sitting on his bed, holding a flashlight with an open book laying on his legs, surrounded by piles of books, is one of my favorite illustrations.

You have to love the way Dog approaches everything in his life; how books are central to each and every adventure.  Dog Loves Counting written and illustrated by Louise Yates pursues Dog's yearning for sleep by bringing numbers and animals together in an enlightening escapade.  Wouldn't it be fun to find other animals and the numbers they might represent?

With each Dog book I love this little guy and his friends even more.  Where will he go?  What will he do next?  I can hardly wait.

I invite you to visit Louise Yates' website by following the link embedded in her name.  Dog Loves Counting is on the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2014 nominations list.

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