Illustrated by Kevin Cornell
(Disney Hyperion Books, 2013)
I had the pleasure of hearing Mac Barnett speak at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ summer conference in L.A. last year. He had me laughing out loud as he confidently enthralled a room of wannabes (myself included). I knew this man had a refreshingly twisted view of the world. The next Mo Willems.
When I checked out a stack of Mac Barnett picture books from my local library, Count the Monkeys rose to the top of the pile. Hmm, a counting book. We all know the formula: 1 of this, 2 of that, get to 10, end of book.
I can envision Mac skimming a stack of counting books and thinking, “Yuck.” No doubt they sell, but do they have to be so boring? What could spice up this niche? How ‘bout penguins? Are they still uber popular? (What do you mean someone counted ‘em already…and went all the way up to 365? Drat.)
Forget trends. Monkeys are always good.
Mac goes for eager camp counsellor as the book opens: Hey, kids! Time to count the monkeys! It’s fun. It’s easy. All you have to do is turn the page…and COUNT THE MONKEYS. Yee-haw! I feel the energy. I’m so ready. One monkey, two monkeys, three monkeys,…
But wait. What’s this? Upon turning the page, there is not a single monkey. Instead, 1 KING COBRA has invaded the space. Mac tells us the beast “has scared off all the monkeys.” Ah, yes. There’s the twist! And Mac begins to invite audience participation. “Turn the page very slowly, very carefully,” he says, “so [the cobra] doesn’t notice us.”
There is indeed counting in this delightful book. But the constant surprise comes in what is to be counted. It’s all quirky and unpredictable. Imagine that—an unpredictable counting book. Genius!
As I read this book to a young school audience, the children fully participated in the narrator’s invitations to clap, vote, move hands in a zig-zag motion and so forth. This counting book is a pure delight, one that people of any age will enjoy as long as they still have an appreciation for random kookiness. (If you’ve lost it, please find it. Kooky is cool!) Parents won’t hesitate to read and reread this book to children. I would, however, suggest refraining from using Count the Monkeys as a bedtime read. All that zaniness is likely to get everyone involved revved up. Read it and then run outside. Swing from the trees. Just like the monkeys that may or may not appear in this book.