Occasionally there is a bit of bickering over breakfast, when my son’s in the mood for cereal to be shared with The Very Hungry Caterpillar but my daughter wants eggs and Peter Rabbit.
On mornings like this, there’s more than my coffee brewing…
My two-year-old turns his thin, wide lips down into a fantastic frown and begins to climb out of his chair so that he can go pout behind a different chair in the family room. And then he starts to cry, I think, but it’s hard to tell because the volume of my three-year-old’s whining is going up…up…up…
“But I wanted to pick the breakfast book…”
I have two choices: throw in the dish towel and send everyone back to bed, or find a book that will appeal to everyone’s taste on this morning when we all woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
I intercept my son just before he leaves the kitchen and say, “Will. WILL!”
He is crying now, so I have to talk louder, slower. “DO YOU WANT TO READ BABY BEAR COUNTS ONE?”
“Uh-huh,” comes his pitiful, I’m-so-sad-so-you-should-feel-sorry-for-me-too, staccato.
“Katy? Baby Bear Counts One?”
“Yes! That’s the book I always, always wanted to read at breakfast!”
Thankful to have avoided a two-year-old tantrum and for my daughter’s instantaneous change of heart, we settle down with cereal and eggs to read a book that both kids always agree on: Baby Bear Counts One by Ashley Wolff (Beach Lane Books, 2013).
If my daughter were in charge of the Baby Bear Counts One jacket flap quotes they would read:
“This is just (sigh) the best book ever.”
“I just looooove this book.”
“Mommy, we just have to read this book to Owen!”
Like its prequel Baby Bear Sees Blue, Baby Bear Counts One is worthy of such high praise.
In One, Baby Bear is back with his Mama, only this time instead of waking up in the Spring to explore the world in full color, it is Fall. The colors are fading, and so now it’s time to count.
The opening lines of One are the same as the opening lines from Blue. They are a heartbeat bringing the book to life.
“Deep down in the den,” both books begin…
Deep down in the den…
Deep down in the den…
“Deep down in the den Baby Bear wakes up…” begins Blue.
In One, “Deep down in the den Baby Bear perks his furry ears. Thockthockthockthockthock! ‘Mama, who woke me?’” asks Baby Bear, who is still young enough in the sequel to believe that everything he feels, sees, or hears is happening to and for him, and only him.
“‘That is the woodpecker,’” says Mama, ‘hunting beetles before winter comes.’”
We turn to a two-page close-up of a woodpecker with a beetle in its mouth. It is looking down at Baby Bear and Mama, who have just emerged from the den.
“Baby Bear counts…”
But before I can finish the line, both of my kids shout out “one!” and air count (pointing their pointer fingers at the woodpecker) from their spots at the table.
The oak, with its “leaves danc[ing] on a twig,” waving to Baby Bear in Blue is back in One…
“High in the oak, twigs rattle and snap. Plunk…plunk…‘OUCH!’ cries Baby Bear. ‘Mama, who hit me?’ ‘Those are the squirrels,’ says Mama. ‘Collecting acorns…”’ and then, as it does throughout the book, the last bit of Mama’s explanation repeats: “before winter comes.”
Before winter comes…
Before winter comes…
In contrast to the vibrant colors of Baby Bear Sees Blue, Baby Bear Counts One is painted mostly in darker hues of brown, orange, purple and gold, and all of Baby Bear’s observations are of other animals preparing for the arrival of winter.
From across the table my kids air count three beavers “gathering twigs before winter comes,” and four and five deer and crows “filling up on sweet corn before winter comes.”
Both of my kids delight in the “gobble gobble gobble” of the turkeys in a “tangle of vines…feasting on grapes before winter comes.”
On the page with eight frogs, my daughter counts, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and then gets stuck, before we finally see number eight, a shadow of a frog. This shadow of a frog is so much fun to find.
“Honk! Honk! Honk!” I read.
“Geese!” my daughter yells. “Just like at our house!”
My son air counts the geese: “One, three, five, seven, nines, seven!”
“Good counting, Will!”
What happens at the end of the story happened yesterday at our house. Spiraling down and around all of the brown in our yard came the season’s first tiny, wet, white snowflakes.
“It’s snowing!” my kids yelled out yesterday, just like they always do when we get to this page.
It’s fortunate all the animals have been so busy getting ready for winter, because winter has come.
We count ten beautiful snowflakes falling softly around Baby Bear, and then, “Mama and Baby curl together, cozy inside the den. Outside, the snowflakes keep falling—too many to count.”
I am looking forward to few things more than being a Mama this winter and curling up with my babies, even with their periodic pouting and whining. “I’m not a BABY. I’m a BIG GIRL!” I can just hear my daughter shrilly correcting me. We will be cozy inside our den, reading Baby Bear Counts One over and over again.
The illustrations in this book are breathtaking; the story told with such sentiment I sometimes forget that we are practicing our numbers while we read it, too.
The Baby Bear books are true picture book treasures, and “before winter comes” in full, I highly recommend you add them to your collection.