A Crafty, Colorful Counting Book

Two weeks ago we shared Baby goes to Marketwinner of the 2018 Mathical Book prize. This week we share a second 2018 Mathical award winner.

The Book

Sheep Won’t Sleep: Counting by 2s, 5s, and 10s was published in 2017 by Holiday House. Written by Judy Cox and illustrated by Nina Cuneo, this book’s whimsical characters and gentle prose are perfect for inspiring colorful dreams and connection through counting before bedtime.


The story begins rather expectedly, when the main character Clarissa can’t sleep. Will counting 10 sheep do the trick?

One…Two…Three… Four…Five…Six…Seven…Eight…Nine…Ten.

Nope.  Then the character line up takes a turn. How about 10 pairs of alpacas?


Nope. How about some llamas? No luck. Enter the Yaks.

With Clarissa’s head full of counting and her room full of animals, she decides to subtract in her own crafty way.

This book is recommended for 4-7 year olds.

The Math

This book provides opportunities for children to count and skip count by 2s, 5s and 10s.

Towards the end of the book, subtraction is used to quickly count back (e.g., to remove twenty alpacas, Clarissa subtracts 90- 20).


The Magic

This book helped me discover things about my daughter’s counting. Here are a few:

  • The number words that trip her up (e.g., going from 19 to 20).
  • Her first instinct is to count all, one by one instead of by pairs when counting the 10 pairs of alpacas. It seems that even though she happily can repeat the choral pattern: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, …etc, she did not feel the need to use skip counting as a tool in this situation.
  • She didn’t always mind if her count didn’t match the text of the book. This made me wonder: Are their times when children are more inspired/compelled to be precise with their counting? And what are the features of these situations?  (e.g., counting out 7 cookies for themselves to eat)
  • Her counting gestures. She waved her hands when counting groups of 10 by 10s and pointed when counting pairs.
  • To help with counting by twos, she shared a strategy her teacher taught her where she would silently say the number she was skipping in her head. For example to count by 2s:  2, (say 3 in silently), 4, (silent 5), 6, (silent 7), 8, etc.

This book reminded me to not butt in.  There will be time to revisit. It is hard to listen when your kids are struggling with counting. It was important for me not to butt in and over help when she counted.   One of the people I respect when it comes to Talking Math with your Kids is Christopher Danielson. Here’s a throwback blog post where he writes about a counting by fives conversation he had with daughter Tabitha. Tabitha and Christopher’s dialogue shows a lovely balance of allowing Tabitha to think through her counting and numeration ideas, try stuff out, all the while, her father is there working to understand her thinking so he can help her along her counting path when/if she gets stuck. Sheep won’t Sleep is wonderful tool to support parents and teachers in taking that time to listen and support children in making sense of counting situations.

This book inspired me to share with my children the wonderful intersection of Math and Knitting. At the end of the book, both my children asked: What’s an Afghan?After showing them this last spread of Clarissa in her bed, I searched the internet for math and knitting. Two things caught my eye (actually more, but you only have so much time to read this post, right?!)


The first was a TED video by Margaret Wertheim that I love and have shared before in a Geometry course I taught for future teachers. Wertheim leads “a project to re-create the creatures of the coral reefs using a crochet technique invented by a mathematician (Daina Taimina) — celebrating the amazements of the reef, and deep-diving into the hyperbolic geometry underlying coral creation.” (TED, 2009 ). Wertheim explains “The only way mathematicians know how to model this structure (of hyperbolic geometry) is with crochet.” The video is 15 minutes long. If you don’t have time for that, maybe skip to 5:00 mark and listen a bit, and then maybe skip to mark 14:00 where Wertheim talks about Play Tanks.

After finding and sharing these knitted coral creatures with my children, I happened upon a second magical math knitting resource! Pat Ashforth and Steve Plummer are two British maths teachers and mathekniticians (love that name!), who, like my children,  didn’t know what an afghan was when they started. Well, they do now! Check out these gorgeous math-ghans they’ve created.

Square Deal: the smallest possible example of a square divided into smaller squares, where the sides of each of the squares are all whole numbers, and where no two squares are the same size. Photograph: Pat Ashforth
Counting Pane: a grid of the numbers from 1 to 100. Each number cell contains the colours of the numbers from 1 to 10 that divide it, with 1 being blue, 2 being yellow, 3 red, and so on. So 12, which is divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 has the colours of blue, yellow, red, green and black. A copy of this was sold to the Science Museum. Photograph: Pat Ashforth
Curve of Pursuit: Ashforth and Plummer’s most popular pattern. The edges of the squares represent four points that are each moving towards each other. Each point is closing in on the next point clockwise to it. Photograph: Pat Ashforth

For more of their amazing math-ghans and knitted works of art, go here.

Sheep Won’t Sleep: Counting by 2s, 5s, and 10s and Clarissa the Matheknitician make for a Mathical counting book to snuggle up under at bedtime or anytime.


Have a magical math book you’d like share? Please go to the Shared booklist to find out how.  If you’d like to receive these magical math book posts every other Monday, be sure to follow this blog in the side bar of this page.

Thanks and see you in two weeks! #mathbookmagic

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