The best counting books

7 authors have picked their favorite books about counting and why they recommend each book.

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I Can Only Draw Worms

By Will Mabbitt,

Book cover of I Can Only Draw Worms

This book is such a fun example of taking something that could be seen as a limitation (for instance, the fact that you can only draw worms) and turning it into something more. The book is narrated by the author/illustrator, who explains that he can only draw worms. 

He then introduces a cast of worms and tells us about their various adventures. But whenever he describes something non-worm-like (Worm Six is riding on a flying unicorn!) he quickly reminds us that he can’t draw those things, because he can only draw worms. Never fails to get my kids laughing!

Who am I?

I’ve always been a goofball. When I was a kid, I was constantly getting in trouble for making my friends laugh in the back of the room. But then I would get out of trouble by making the teacher or the principal laugh. Humor and absurdity have always had a special place in my heart, and I love books like these that encourage us to not take ourselves quite so seriously!

I wrote...

A Pizza with Everything on It

By Kyle Scheele, Andy J. Pizza (illustrator),

Book cover of A Pizza with Everything on It

What is my book about?

It's a tale as old as time: a kid wants to make a pizza with his dad, but not just any pizza . . . he wants a pizza with everything on it. That's right, everything. But as the toppings pile on, this father-son duo accidentally create a pizza so delicious, so extravagant, so over-the-top, that it destroys the universe—and the cosmos go as dark as burnt crust. Will anyone enjoy pizza ever again? 

Follow along as a seemingly innocent request for a "pizza with everything on it" turns into an adventure that tests the limits of taste and space time!

Counting Birds

By Heidi E. Y. Stemple, Clover Robin (illustrator),

Book cover of Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Save Our Feathered Friends

Believe it or not, a long time ago hunters would go out on Christmas day and shoot as many birds as they could. I know! What an awful tradition! Yikes! Fortunately, Frank Chapman thought it was awful, too. This book shows how he campaigned for bird lovers to count birds rather than shoot them. 

Today, millions of people participate in the Christmas Bird Count. Their data helps scientists keep track of bird populations. The best part is that anyone can participate. Counting Birds reminds us that one person really can make a difference.

Who am I?

I’ve always loved birds, especially the red-winged black birds; their song was the first I learned to recognize as a kid. My first field guide was written by Roger Tory Peterson, and through that book and many others I’ve learned about the amazing world around us. Now, as a children’s nonfiction author, I get to share similar stories with young readers through my books and at school presentations. And as a writing instructor, I collect well-crafted and well-researched nonfiction, and use them to encourage budding children’s writers at workshops, in blog posts for the Nonfiction Ninjas, and as co-host of the annual Nonfiction Fest that celebrates true stories for children.

I wrote...

For the Birds: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson

By Peggy Thomas, Laura Jacques (illustrator),

Book cover of For the Birds: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson

What is my book about?

Some kids called him “Professor Nuts Peterson,” but Roger didn’t care. He was all about the birds. He watched birds. He drew birds. He hung over cliffs to photograph birds. And when he created his first Peterson Field Guide, Roger inspired millions of people to become bird watchers, too.  

Working closely with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, Thomas and Jacques have created the first children’s biography of the world-famous naturalist who revolutionized the way we look at, study, and appreciate animals, plants, and birds.

100 Bugs!

By Kate Narita, Suzanne Kaufman (illustrator),

Book cover of 100 Bugs!: A Counting Book

This is a busy book in the best of ways. Counting is a start toward exploring the beauty and joy of creeping or flying bugs and the places they make as their homes. Honestly, what can be more fun to count than a variety of colorful bugs? We’re introduced to various ways to reach one hundred, an exhilarating number to aim for.

Who am I?

I was a girl who looked under rocks. Besides caring about crawling things and forests, I liked to read and write about history, which became the passion I followed into college and a career. No regrets, but I sometimes wonder what might have become of me if an interest in science was more encouraged and I was nudged past my fear of math. 

I wrote...

Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math

By Jeannine Atkins,

Book cover of Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math

What is my book about?

In Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math, free verse introduces some scientists who always found joy in math as well as those who found parts of it tough, but kept at it until they saw its beauty. Paths taken include astronomy, statistics, and physics, shown in the context of lives in which friendship and family matter a lot, too.

One Big Pair of Underwear

By Laura Gehl, Tom Lichtenheld (illustrator),

Book cover of One Big Pair of Underwear

Underwear! Underwear! Underwear is funny! It’s a proud moment when a child graduates to underwear. One Big Pair of Underwear is the perfect underwear book to launch your Underwear Parade through the house to celebrate your child’s potty success! Hoist those underwear flags and parade with family and friends.

This is a fun counting book about animals who learn to share from a pair of underwear. It’s a book about problem solving animals and no one is left out of this underwear parade! It isn’t a book about potty training but you will see, once your child finally says goodbye to diapers, there’s no looking back. Underwear just become the new funny normal. Underwear books never get old.

Who am I?

I love supporting families through the challenges of potty training because I love deciphering the developmental puzzle of potty skill building – the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social pieces all coming together at the perfect time. As a “family time” teacher for over three decades, I know the stories and the setbacks. I want to be the voice for children learning to manage their bodies, their choices and their world. With a Masters and Specialist degree in Early Childhood, I have also conducted national webinars for Early Childhood teachers on collaborating with families on in-school potty training. I hope these books add some fun and sanity to your potty training experience!

I wrote...

The Potty Training Answer Book: Practical Answers to the Top 200 Questions Parents Ask

By Karen Deerwester,

Book cover of The Potty Training Answer Book: Practical Answers to the Top 200 Questions Parents Ask

What is my book about?

One-size potty training cannot fit every child and every situation because children come in all different sizes – different temperaments with different learning styles in a variety of different settings with different needs. The Potty Training Answer Book helps parents and caregivers customize potty learning strategies for success, with understanding and respect. And, most of all, without drama and power struggles!

This book is your guide to understand the developmental readiness factors as well as the developmental challenges that coincide with potty training like fear, resistance, and potty accidents. Parents and caregivers can then customize their “Positive Potty Plan” for each child’s individual needs. Every child wants to learn to be in charge of their own body. Success is inevitable when potty training is about the “child”, not the “potty”!

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin

By Lloyd Moss, Marjorie Priceman (illustrator),

Book cover of Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin

This book starts with one trombone, all alone, and adds another instrument on each page until there’s a chamber group of ten. The text swirls and twirls in happy harmony with the illustrations. It’s quite a feat to describe instruments and their sounds in rhyming verse, but this flows along seamlessly. Listen to this oboe description: “Gleeful, bleating, sobbing, pleading, through its throbbing double-reeding.” In addition to introducing orchestra instruments, this book teaches counting (1-10) and terms like “duo,” “trio,” and “quartet,” so it works well for a wide age range of picture book readers. My favorite illustration is the silliest one, where the musicians have become so enthused by the music that the violinist is playing the violin on his head, and the clarinet has attached itself to the clarinetist’s nose.

Who am I?

I’m a children’s book author with a Master of Education in Language and Literacy who loves the musicality of words. Growing up in a musical family, I started piano lessons in second grade, clarinet lessons in fourth, and dabbled a bit in saxophone in high school. Clarinet was the instrument that really stuck for me – I played in bands, pit bands, and orchestras all through school and beyond. My picture book Clarinet and Trumpet blasted forth from my own band experiences. 

I wrote...

Clarinet and Trumpet

By Melanie Ellsworth, John Herzog (illustrator),

Book cover of Clarinet and Trumpet

What is my book about?

Clarinet and Trumpet are best friends, but their friendship falls flat when a new instrument (a double reed!) comes between them. The tension crescendos as the brass and woodwinds face off in an ear-splitting musical duel. With humor and musical puns, this book highlights the important role music plays in creating empathy and community. A rain stick built into the book’s spine allows young readers to shake the book and join the band! 

Little Goblins Ten

By Pamela Jane, Jane Manning (illustrator),

Book cover of Little Goblins Ten

This Halloween rendition of the traditional Over in the Meadow counting rhyme is so well done. The finely crafted verses feature goblins, ghosts, skeletons, and other spooky creatures. Beautiful, colorful, atmospheric scenes by Jane Manning compliment the story inviting the reader to pause on each page to admire the art, count the characters, and smile. As an illustrator myself, I appreciate the wonderful design and compositions. Both the story and characters are sweet and hardly scary, so it’s a great pick for younger children, especially those who might be easily frightened.

Who am I?

Born in Poland, I have fond memories of sitting on my Grandma’s lap listening to stories and poems. A favorite poem was about a crow who ate Swiss cheese and only left the holes. The concept made my noggin spin and spurred my imagination. When I immigrated to the U.S. at age seven, I learned English by reading a Mother Goose collection. Captivated by the fun rhyming sounds and art, I dreamed of making children’s books someday. Years later, my dream came true, I became an author/illustrator, with the majority of my books being extensions of the nursery rhymes which inspired me when I was a child. 

I wrote...

Haunted Party

By Iza Trapani,

Book cover of Haunted Party

What is my book about?

Count up and down for Halloween fun!

This humorous book invites readers to count eerie party guests one through ten as they arrive at the haunted house of their ghostly host. Mummies and monsters, werewolves and witches, vampires, and ghouls show up group by group to round out the festivities. These classic creatures party the night away, but when the guests are frightened by a group of young trick-or-treaters, readers count backward as they depart. A surprise ending offers a delightfully spooky twist.

Moja Means One

By Muriel Feelings, Tom Feelings (illustrator),

Book cover of Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book

This well acclaimed and award-winning book by Muriel Feelings is great for anyone interested in learning about culture through language. What I love so much about this book is its simplicity. The book teaches how to count up to ten in Swahili, using East African imagery and culture, and it has pronunciation keys as well. The detailed monochromatic illustrations create a mood of awe and reverie.

Who am I?

As a Kenyan/American raised in both countries, I noticed growing up that there was very little creative content about Africa. Whilst in Kenya, I experienced much joy and fun in the culture and felt that other people in other parts of the world would also enjoy it. Loving reading, drawing, comics, and movies, I felt it would be useful to create such content about Africa. I was very fortunate to study arts at an undergraduate and graduate level in the US. This formal training, combined with extensive travel around Africa and the diaspora, has informed my sense of book and film creation and appreciation. I hope you enjoy this book list that I’ve curated!

I wrote...

A Tasty Maandazi

By Kwame Nyong'o,

Book cover of A Tasty Maandazi

What is my book about?

Have you ever wondered what life is like in East Africa? Food is a very central and important aspect of life in this part of the world and is used to celebrate the local culture in A Tasty Maandazi.

A Tasty Maandazi is a day-in-the-life story of a young boy, Musa, and his quest to get his favorite treat—a maandazi! Set in the magical coastal area of Kenya, Musa finds that he must use his creativity in order to get his hands on this famously tasty African donut. A Tasty Maandazi also features a Swahili-English translation dictionary for the few Swahili words that are sprinkled throughout the story, as well as a maandazi recipe for everyone to try out and enjoy!

The Big Year

By Mark Obmascik,

Book cover of The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession

If you saw the disappointing-at-best 2011 film based very loosely on this book, don’t let it color your opinion; if you haven’t seen it, buy the book instead. It follows three birders as they traverse North America during 1998’s “big year,” an informal, self-reported 365-day competition in which bird-spotting junkies chase down as many species as they can. It’s an engrossing peek into a fascinating, quirky subculture that will sweep you along on an irresistible armchair roadtrip-with-a-purpose.

Who am I?

I never had a particular interest in birds until I heard about David Wingate and the cahow; I’m just a reporter who was smitten by a compelling story. I often write about science and the environment, as well as travel and other topics, for publications including the Boston Globe, Archaeology, and Harvard Medicine, and while working on Rare Birds I got hooked on these extraordinary creatures and the iconoclastic obsessives who have become their stewards in the Anthropocene era. You don’t have to care about birds to love their stories — but in the end, you will.

I wrote...

Rare Birds: The Extraordinary Tale of the Bermuda Petrel and the Man Who Brought It Back from Extinction

By Elizabeth Gehrman,

Book cover of Rare Birds: The Extraordinary Tale of the Bermuda Petrel and the Man Who Brought It Back from Extinction

What is my book about?

Rare Birds is a tale of obsession, of hope, of fighting for redemption against incredible odds. For more than 300 years the cahow, or Bermuda petrel, was believed extinct, but by the early 1900s, tantalizing hints of the birds’ continued existence began to emerge, and in 1951, two naturalists mounted a last-ditch effort to find them, bringing 15-year-old David Wingate along for the ride. When the stunned scientists pulled a blinking, docile cahow from deep within a rocky cliffside, it made headlines around the world—and showed Wingate what he was put on Earth to do.
Starting with just seven nesting pairs of the birds, Wingate devoted his life to giving the cahows the chance they needed in their centuries-long struggle for survival, battling hurricanes, invasive species, DDT, the American military, and personal tragedy along the way. It took six decades of ardent dedication, but Wingate has seen his dream fulfilled as the birds have reached the 100-pair mark and returned to Nonsuch, an island habitat he hand-restored for them, plant by plant, in anticipation of this day. His story is an inspiring celebration of the resilience of nature, the power of persistence, and the value of going your own way.


By Deborah Stone,

Book cover of Counting: How We Use Numbers to Decide What Matters

I had never really given much thought to counting until I read this book, but in the very first chapter, Stone made me rethink everything I thought I knew about “one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.” She shows that every time we count, we’re making cultural assumptions. For example, what counts as a fish? And what makes the color of the fish more relevant than other features? Counting reveals that while these choices may seem intuitive, basic, and meaningless, they have very real impacts on people’s lives. Especially when we use numbers to measure things like merit, poverty, race, and productivity, those fundamental assumptions matter more than we care to admit.  

Who am I?

I’m a historian who’s spent far too much time thinking about how the color magenta contributed to climate change and why eighteenth-century humanitarians were obsessed with tobacco enemas. My favorite historical topics—like sensation, color, and truth—don’t initially seem historical, but that’s exactly why they need to be explored. I’ve learned that the things that seem like second nature are where our deepest cultural assumptions and unconscious biases hide. In addition to writing nonfiction, I’ve been lucky enough to grow up on a ranch, live in Paris, work as an interior design writer, teach high school and college, and help stray dogs get adopted.

I wrote...

The Sensational Past: How the Enlightenment Changed the Way We Use Our Senses

By Carolyn Purnell,

Book cover of The Sensational Past: How the Enlightenment Changed the Way We Use Our Senses

What is my book about?

Blindfolding children from birth? Playing a piano made of live cats? Using tobacco to cure drowning? Wearing "flea"-colored clothes? These actions may seem odd to us, but in the eighteenth century, they made perfect sense.

As often as we use our senses, we rarely stop to think about their place in history. But perception is not dependent on the body alone. Carolyn Purnell persuasively shows that, while our bodies may not change dramatically, the way we think about the senses and put them to use has been rather different over the ages. Journeying through the past three hundred years, Purnell explores how people used their senses in ways that might shock us now. And perhaps more surprisingly, she shows how many of our own ways of life are a legacy of this earlier time.

Whole Whale

By Karen Yin, Nelleke Verhoeff (illustrator),

Book cover of Whole Whale

The Whole Whale is a counting book, a delightful, read-aloud rhyming book, and, at its core, it’s a book about making space for everyone, even when it might seem easier to say, “Sorry, there’s no room for you.” The other 99 animals in the book don’t hesitate to make way for their biggest friend by pushing and shoving until… voilà… they arrive at a special surprise—a double fold-out page big enough to fit all 100 different animals (Seriously! 100!). Talk about a page you and your little one can pore over again and again and find something new every time!

Who am I?

Over my career as an elementary school teacher and a science educator I’ve seen time and time again that no matter the topic, learning happens best when people feel positive and engaged. My favorite books to share with young readers are those that capture their attention–be it with stunning illustrations, unusual information, or hilarious situations–and leave them with a strong emotional connection to the characters or story. Now, as I read oodles of picture books for writing research, I keep an extra special eye out for those that leave me smiling and also make me think. Some of my very favorites are collected for you here.

I wrote...

Rat Fair

By Leah Rose Kessler, Cleonique Hilsaca (illustrator),

Book cover of Rat Fair

What is my book about?

When a group of industrious, fun-loving rats find letters fallen from an Art Fair sign, they put the sign back together—with one small adjustment—and get to work creating a spectacular Rat Fair. Their fair is ruined when humans sweep away everything the rats have created. Undaunted, the rats switch gears and start working on their very own Rat Art Fair. As they are wrapping up their first day of the Rat Art Fair, a human child who has been following their progress from the sidelines catches them red-handed, and the rats must decide if they can trust the child.

A nearly wordless tale about creativity, kindness, and perseverance.

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