Seals, mittens, and pennies help kids learn to count

With all the excitement of a circus parade, out marches a menagerie of animals portraying shapes from 0 to 10. Numbers on Parade, by Anthony Penta Kramer (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, New York, $10.25, ages 1-5), tells a story while it teaches beginning numbers. During the introduction the animals are preparing for the finale - a six-page foldout parade. A somewhat frazzled ringleader is making an effort to organize his performers, while his second-in-command, a mischievous monkey, is doing anything but assisting him.

The vocabulary used to describe the circus animals suggests comical personalities and exaggerated attributes. Kramer's illustrations of ``outlandish orangutans,'' ``extraordinary elephants,'' and ``streamlined seals'' have the same pizazz as his descriptive adjectives. The exuberant monkey is particularly charming. It manages to be in the middle of the commotion on every page, conscientiously holding up its tail, toes and fingers, trying to help the reader with the task of counting the animals.

In this entertaining counting book, Kramer creates characters that have the visual quality and appeal of a Disney cartoon. Bright red numbers on each page guide the beginner as he counts his way to the extravaganza of performers, flags, wagons, and animals in the final foldout parade.

Tana Hoban has designed an equally effective counting book, 26 Letters and 99 Cents (Greenwillow, New York, $13, 34 pages, ages 4-7). Her newest book of photographs teaches numbers and letters with a twist. It reads in two directions - the end is the beginning and the beginning is the end.

Hoban's exceptional photography has brought her international recognition, as both artist and author. In ``26 Letters and 99 Cents,'' she alphabetizes photos of simple objects that are familiar to young children - ice cream, a turtle, jellybeans, a single mitten - and she counts with American coins. The colorful photos of shiny money, glossy letters, and gleaming numbers have a strong ``Touch me! - Who am I?'' appeal.

The author's finely tuned sense of color and design are evident throughout the book. Each photograph is framed in bright primary colors that provide bold composition and continuity to the pages.

An interesting inconsistency in ``26 Letters and 99 Cents'' exists between the contrasting levels needed to appreciate both halves of the picture book. Learning to count to 99 with coins is a complex skill that usually comes many years after a child has learned to identify the letters and sounds of the alphabet. A younger child, however, can certainly enjoy matching real coins with the pictures in the book. Hoban's use of lifesize pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters to demonstrate comparable values is an excellent teaching device.

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