One of the many concepts that young children can learn from picture books is the order of numbers. Even babies love the lilt of numbers being read to them. And when the objects are pointed to, they get the idea of "how many?" very early in life. Counting books usually provide a sequence from the numeral one through 10 with pictures of objects to confirm the order.

Some counting books, however, start before the number one by introducing a zero and then going beyond "one set" to display groups of objects that follow 10. The classic example of this is "Anno's Counting Book" (Crowell), which begins with zero and a blank landscape. It then adds people, buildings and scenery up to 12, which coordinates with the calendar year. Blocks stacked in groups of 10 make it clear how place-value is used in numbering.The best counting books have a thread of a story or some commonality among the numbered objects. To illustrate "Over on the Farm" (Scholastic), Christopher Gunson introduced farmyard animals in verses where "a clever mother cat and her little cat one . . ." is followed by various animal families ending with a woolly mother sheep and 10 little piggies.

Two recent counting books are excellent examples of counting books that will provide concept-building for preschoolers; "One Duck Stuck" by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Jane Chapman (Candlewick Press), is not only a counting book but also a cumulative tale done in clever lilting rhyme and assonance text. One duck gets stuck in the muck and as the cry goes out for help a series of animals venture forth to give assistance: two fish that swish, three moose munching on spruce, four crickets chirping in the thicket and so on. There's lots of repetition and vivid color to hold the interest of the youngest listener. The illustrations splash across two-page spreads with humorous action, and at the conclusion the duck is released by the concerted effort of all the animals. The text - "pleep, plunk, zing, slosh and clomp" - features descriptive words to complement the animal antics.

I really like "One Duck Stuck" and can imagine children finding lots of reasons to say, "Read it again!"

"The Cheerios Counting Book" by Barbara McGrath, illustrated by Rob Bolster and Frank Mazzola Jr. (Scholastic), is one of the tastiest concept books of the year. From one to 100, this simple picture book invites readers to see the popular cereal as counting objects along with bite-size fruits that could accompany the snack.

"The Cheerios Counting Book" is very colorful and focused, but there are two favorite parts of the book for me. The 2-inch numerals are placed next to the appropriate number word printed plainly in lower-case letters. (So often the words are all in capital lettersm, which can confuse a beginning reader). The way the Cheerios and bits of fruit are placed in sets or groups makes it very clear that "sixty is six groups with ten in each bunch. . . ."

What a delightful way to learn about numerals up to 10 and then extend that concept into larger numbers.

Both books would be treasured gifts for children 4 and up.