How Many Fish? by Caron Lee Cohen

I found this book shelved with the counting books, and I suppose you could call it that, if you don’t mind the fact that the only numbers mentioned are one, two, and six. Just don’t stop there, because there is a lot more to this small book than first appears.

Looking at the cover, you’ll see the “My First I Can Read Book” logo. This is a good thing. We have liked a lot of the I Can Read Books; for limited-vocabulary books they’ve usually got a pretty good story line. How Many Fish?, being in the “My First” line, is targeted at the earliest readers and has the simplest vocabulary. I think I counted only 28 unique words in the whole book. The rhymes are nicely made, and the illustrations are quite lovely.

It’s only on actually reading the book that it’s true value becomes clear. The story is simple – six little fish in the bay get scared away by three children wading, except one little fish gets trapped by a dropped toy for a moment and then freed to happily rejoin his friends. However, How Many Fish? poses a lot of questions to the reader as to what the fish and the children are doing, and why. This is a wonderful book to encourage kids to think about what it happening on the page, and speculate on what might happen next. It’s an important set of reading skills, and easily missed in a child’s hurry to finish a story.

How Many Fish? is a book to read several times (I found my kids were more willing to consider “why” and “maybe” on repeated readings) and linger over. There’s lots of fodder for extending the story into discussions, which is nice to find in an early reader. I think this book will appeal to a wide age range – my not-quite-two-year-old likes the pictures, my toddler enjoyed the counting and the “suspense”, and my preschooler liked that she could read it herself and then make up her own explanations.

Available on Amazon

How Many Fish? by Caron Lee Cohen, illustrated by S.D. Schindler. HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.

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Museum 123 by The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museum 123 is a different sort of counting book. Rather than asking a child to count objects on a plain white page, let’s count objects found in world-famous artwork, carefully selected by the experts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

It seemed like a good idea. We could get double the educational time, practicing counting and exploring fine art at the same time. In practice, however, it didn’t work out so neatly. The pictures aren’t labeled, so sometimes we had to hunt for what we were supposed to be counting, which meant my 3-year-old quickly lost interest; so much for math. Then again, the pictures are small portions of the artwork, so we often didn’t have any idea of what the larger work was about; so much for exploring art. In the end, this was a book we put back on the shelf.

I do think the idea is a fundamentally sound, though. Counting things in real life, like the grocery store, is a common and effective way to teach numbers. Finding things to count in a painting or other artwork is a good way to get kids to pay close attention to what they’re seeing. I think the aspect that the book missed is the context; to appreciate the artwork, we need to be able to see the entire thing.

So grab a coffee-table art book from the library, pull up some pictures from a website, or head down to your local art museum. You and your child can search out things to count, colors, shapes, letters, and more, and then you can extend the conversation by discussing what might be happening in the picture. You don’t have to be an art expert at all, just willing to stop and look a while.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art can be found online at

Available on Amazon

Museum 123 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Little, Brown and Company, 2004.

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