There is no lack of books about numbers for children. Some of the first published materials in the 18th century were chapbooks and battledores that contained exercises on learning numbers and number games.
The concepts for teaching numerals and using numbers as patterns for style and format are still profuse. They are printed in every manner from simple lap-book techniques for babies to stylistic and sophisticated art pieces.The following seven books all have numbering systems as their common feature, but within the collection are books for learning to count, puzzle books, rhymes using numbers and an interesting one showing the use of numbers on sports uniforms.
ANY NUMBER CAN PLAY. George Sullivan with illustrations by John Caldwell. Crowell Publishers, 1990. $13.95.
Which baseball player was the first to have his uniform number dropped from the lineup to honor him at the time of his retirement? (Hint: Yankee player with the uniform number 4.)
ANY NUMBER CAN PLAY is full of information about how the use of numbers began and focuses on the system of selecting numbers for sports uniforms, both past and present. Using sources like the Baseball and Football Halls of Fame, National Hockey League and sportswriters, Sullivan presents facts and trivia in a lighthearted way that is as fun to read from cover to cover as it is to merely browse.
Sullivan's many sports books, a diversity of other subjects and his photography are well-known. Caldwell has illustrated for "The Saturday Review," "Esquire," "National Lampoon" and "The New York Times."
This combination makes a book for all ages, but sports fans from 10 and up will have a good time collecting facts and quizzing each other.
(Answer to quiz: Lou Gehrig's No. 4 uniform was retired on July 4, 1939, which set a precedence for this practice of retiring sports uniforms and equipment.)
Two picture books by Harper and Row Publishers use rhymes and involve numbers. In FOUR AND TWENTY DINOSAURS by Bernard Most, 1990, $8.95, the verses are the usual traditional rhymes except dinosaurs step in to make a sudden - and humorous - conflict. For example, in Cobbler, cobbler, mend my shoe/Get it done by half past two . . . the shoemaker is quite abashed as a green monster presents his clod hoppers for repair. Children 3 years and up will enjoy this one.
Old counting rhymes like one, two - buckle my shoe . . . , Baa, baa, black sheep, and Hinty, minty, cutty, corn make up the collection in TEN POTATOES IN A POT; AND OTHER COUNTING RHYMES selected by Michael Jay Katz. (1990. $12.95) June Otani's illustrations resemble turn-of-the-century full-color drawings with additional silhouette facades that complement the two dozen verses. This is a fun read-aloud poetry collection.
ONE GORILLA by Atsuko Morozumi. Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1990, $12.95, is a counting book that has a unique quality of exotic jungles, lush gardens and snow-covered forest scenery. While the young reader follows the friend gorilla through the numbers of one to 10, interesting art has hidden five pandas in the snow, seven frogs and six rabbits and much more.
Morozumi's first picture book is proof of a dedication and interest in natural history illustration.
HIDDEN NUMBERS by Stephen Holmes Gulliver Books; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1990. $13.95, is an oversize counting book with flaps, dials, wheels and objects that can be counted, identified and classified.
There are many toy books on the market with movable parts, but this one appears to be well-manufactured, easily utilized and colorful for the youngster just learning the numbers.
Usually numbering books begin with one and end with 10 (or sometimes 12), but in THE RIGHT NUMBER OF ELEPHANTS by Jeff Sheppard with illustrations by Felicia Bond, Harper and Row Publishers, 1990, $13.95, the numbers go backward. If you suddenly need to pull a train out of a tunnel . . . then the right number of elephants is . . . Certainly, the correct answer (and found on the next page) is 10, and from there the adventures of elephants and their collected need and use are shown, working backward through the numbering system. When you need a very special friend . . . the right number of elephants is . . .
The conclusion draws friendship to a sensitive point. Even if you've never thought of being cuddled by a great gray pachyderm, "The Right Number of Elephants" may convince you otherwise.
The most colorful and original of this collection of books about numbers is ONE, FIVE, MANY by Kveta Pacovska (Clarion Books, 1990, $16.95. This combines a hippo, a red bird and stylized pictures of stick figures that bend and twist to make the number of objects they represent. There are holes to peek through, flaps and lids with all sorts of shapes, colors and lines that make a visual extravaganza.
Although the publisher lists this book appropriate for kindergarten through grade three, I see this as an "art book" that all ages could explore, not just to count and identify numbers, but to see art expression in a fresh new way.