friday feast: (deliciously ) Counting Crows by Kathi Appelt and Rob Dunlavey + a recipe

One, two, three, and as pleased as can be to see this delectable new counting picture book  by award-winning poet, author and teacher Kathi Appelt!

For one, I’ve long been fascinated by crows and their supreme intelligence. Did you know they can distinguish individual humans by recognizing facial features? Or that they can not only use, but in some cases, manufacture tools? They engage in sports and play, and yes, they can actually count!

(Uncanny, but just as I finished typing the previous sentence, I heard three jubilant caws of approval in the back yard. I’m sure our resident crows know when they’re being written about. Told you they were smart!) 🙂

The two things I love most about Counting Crows (Atheneum BFYR, 2015) are the varied, innovative rhyme schemes and the fact that the crows are counting, of all things, SNACKS *licks lips*! Not to mention Rob Dunlavey’s fetching feast of whimsical illustrations capturing the peckish personalities and comical antics of these red-and-white sweater-clad flappers in a striking three-color palette of black, white and red.

One, two, three
crows in a tree.

Three roly-poly bugs,
three ripe mangoes.

Three for the counting crows.
Three, by jango!

One, two, three, four, five, six
crows in a nest
of straws and sticks.

Six salty peanuts,
six ripe plums.

Six for the counting crows.
Yum, yum, YUM!

In a brilliant coup-de-caw, Ms. Appelt throws predictability out the window with her fresh punchy rhymes, which alternate between numbering and describing crow behavior (perching, nesting, hopping, singing, caw, cack, cackle, grackle!), and the tasty snacks they spy and score (berries, ants, peanuts, peas, snails, crackers, crickets). Such hungry crows — scrawny, bug-eyed, sociable and gregarious, are seemingly insatiable until a sneaky gray cat eyes up all twelve for his snack, prompting them to fly off in the same groups as they arrived.

One, two, three, four, five, six,
seven, eight, nine crows in a line.

Nine little spicy ants,
nine round crackers.

Nine for the counting crows.
Nine, by smackers!

With its jazzy musicality, this book begs to be read aloud, and the chewy foodie end rhymes are just so much fun: mangoes/jango!, plums/yum, crackers/smackers, peppers/yeppers. And who doesn’t love a roly-poly bug, a slimy snail or a spicy ant now and again?

Appelt has even tweaked her seasonings with an “aloha” and “adios” for maximum flavor. In the small space of just about 200 words, this little drama is played out with two twelve counts, arrivals and departures with a crescendo and diminuendo, as the action escalates from just three birds to twelve back down to three and then to a final lone cat.

Set against a stark white background graced with subdued pencil drawings that effectively define the outdoor space and scenarios, those affable crows in their spiffy garb make quite the flashy fashion statement and are eye-poppingly irresistible. Kids will love counting the birds as well as the many food items showing their omnivorous nature, and will no doubt enjoy the non-stop hijinks.

Speaking of fashion statements, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the renegade crow with his polka dot scarf (oh yes, do keep your eye on him!), for he and his friends scarf down those snacks with the best of them. If you’re a tactile person, you’ll be happy to know that the cover features several laminated textures, with fuzzy flocking used for the striped sweaters (genius!). Oh yes, I’m flying high with this cawcaphonous delight. Count me in. 🙂

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No surprise, all the snacking in this book made everyone in the Alphabet Soup kitchen quite ravenous. As we weren’t in the mood for crickets, snails or ants, we decided to pay homage to Dunlavey’s crisp ‘n casual black, white and red palette with an indulgent sweet.

Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies seemed just the thing: a nice “black-and-white” contrast between the dense, dark fudgy brownie and the creamy cheesecake topping, with sassy swirls of raspberry jam capturing our fancy just like those striped sweaters (no doubt designed by Caw Caw Chanel).

Count the crows, but don’t count calories. This dessert is decidedly rich and decadent — dark chocolate! cream cheese! butter! sugar! But my feathered friend, you deserve it, especially after such a long, hard winter.






I used Bonne Maman Raspberry Preserves, which added a nice fruitiness to the tangy cheesecake layer without overpowering it, and Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate (the original recipe at Baking Bites called for “dark chocolate,” not specifying unsweetened or semi-sweet). The various flavors and textures are divine — the contrast between that cloud of light creaminess on top and the part-chewy, part cakey brownie on the bottom. Mmmmmm! So easy to make, and not overly sweet. I truly lost count of the times my eyes rolled back in my head with every bite. Trust me, you need these. 🙂



  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2-oz dark chocolate, chopped (I used semi-sweet chips)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup raspberry preserves/jam (strawberry or blueberry would work just as well)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Line an 8″x 8″ square baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper and lightly grease.

3. In a small, heat-proof bowl, melt butter and chocolate together. Stir with fork until very smooth. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

4. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs and vanilla extract. Whisking steadily, pour chocolate mixture into sugar mixture. Stir until smooth. Sift flour, cocoa powder and salt into the bowl and stir until just combined.

5. Pour into prepared pan and prepare cheesecake mixture.

6. In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla extract until smooth. Drop in dollops onto prepared brownie batter. Drop dollops of raspberry preserves into the cheesecake batter. Gently swirl batters with a butter knife, giving the brownies a swirly look.

7. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until brownies and cheesecake are set. A knife inserted into the cheesecake mixture should come out clean and the edges will be lightly browned.

8. Cool in the pan completely before slicing and serving, either at room temperature or chilled. Brownies can be refrigerated, covered, for several days.

*Makes about 20 brownies.

**Adapted from Nicole Weston’s recipe at Baking Bites.

Note: I baked mine for the full 40 minutes and ended up with a fudgy brownie on the bottom. You could bake a few minutes more if you prefer a cakey brownie layer. Also chilled mine in the fridge for several hours before eating — it does keep well for a few days, if it lasts that long. 🙂


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written by Kathi Appelt
illustrated by Rob Dunlavey
published by Atheneum BFYR/Simon & Schuster, March 2015
Picture Book for ages 4-8, 40 pp.
*Amazon Best Book of the Month
***Starred Reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and Booklist***

♥ Click here for an Activity Sheet at the publisher’s website

♥ Read what Kathi has to say about writing picture books, Counting Crows, and her other new books, When Otis Courted Mama and Mogee, the Heart of the House at Kirby’s Lane.

♥ Even more in the Storybook Spotlight podcast!



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The lovely and talented Laura Shovan is hosting the Roundup this week at Author Amok. She’s just one click away as the crow flies, so be sure to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere today. Lots to caw about!


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wkendcookingiconThis post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Fluff your feathers, lick your paws, and come join the fun!



*Spreads from Counting Crows posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2015 Kathi Appelt, illustrations © 2015 Rob Dunlavey, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.


72 thoughts on “friday feast: (deliciously ) Counting Crows by Kathi Appelt and Rob Dunlavey + a recipe

  1. The cataloger and I were looking at this book just yesterday when it arrived at the library. I love the black, white, and red.

    The photos of the brownie have me drooling. The combination of favorite flavors–dark chocolate and raspberry–yummy.


  2. Hi, Jama. I am a tactile person — can’t wait to get my hands (literally) on this book. And oh my gosh those brownies.


  3. Oh dear – saw this at the library but the protective cover hid the fancy flocking! Must return and gently peel back the plastic to fully appreciate the sweaters. 🙂


  4. Jama! The crows and I send huge thanks for such a wonderful review! We’re off to the grocery to get the ingredients for that cheesecake. Yum, yum, yum!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Love the color scheme for the book! I just wrote a tanka about crows for Michelle. They do have a certain je ne sais quoi, don’t they?

    Your recipe made *my* eyes roll back in my head, Jama!


    1. Definitely something about crows. I used to think they were menacing but after I learned about how smart they are, I really began to like them more and more. I enjoy watching them in our back yard. They like the peanuts I throw outside. 🙂


  6. That recipe sounds absolutely divine. And the book looks adorable – a great addition to counting and rhyming books everywhere. 😀


    1. Love the way Kathi changes things up — there are so many ho-hum counting books out there and it’s wonderful to see one that’s different (plus charming and delicious).

      Dark chocolate + raspberry + cheesecake = divine. Just saying. 🙂


  7. Oh, those whimsical drawings of crows! I would *LOVE* a stationery set with these guys, wouldn’t you? Or lapel pins… I ADORE crows, and am reminded of the story of Gabi – whose crows bring her presents. They will always remember her. And count the number of things she leaves them, probably…


    1. Yes, these guys would look great on stationery! And I love Gabi’s story — actually meant to include a link to that article in this post but forgot, so thanks for mentioning it. It’s even more evidence of how brilliant they are — the idea of “reciprocation.” Many humans don’t even get that.


  8. I had the pleasure of introducing Kathi at my reading conference last month. She’s written more than one beautiful story. This looks great too, Jama. Thank you.


  9. I’m so glad to be introduced to the book. I love the words “jango,” “smackers,” and “yeppers.” And your review is full of goodies too, and I don’t just mean the brownies, but “coup-de-caw” and “cawcaphonous” and “ravenous.” Not only is there something so delightful about the 3-color palette, but that mix of textures, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really enjoyed Kathi’s word choices too — you don’t see “smackers” and “yeppers” all that often in poems. 🙂 I’m glad we have crows hanging around here — they’re so much fun to watch, and of course they love being written about. 🙂 Hope you get to see this book soon, Karin!


  10. Your post is the perfect treat — just like dessert on this dreary Friday night! Your recipes are lethal. I made the bread pudding with marmalade and my husband’s eyes definitely rolled back in his head. Looking forward to trying the brownies! Thanks for being such a clever wordsmith *and* foodie. xoxo


    1. Thanks, Keri, glad you enjoyed the post. If you do make the brownies, make sure you know CPR before serving some to your husband :). Good to hear you made Paddington’s bread pudding with marmalade!


  11. First – I love this book, and will purchase it for the twin daughters just born to the math teacher in my school.
    Second – those brownies have me in a tizzy, Jama – love the addition of jam, especially the freedom to use blueberries. My favorite.


    1. Yay! I’m sure your friend will enjoy sharing this with her daughters. 🙂

      I’m thinking of making these again, using different jams each time . . .


  12. What a wonderful post for introducing the equally wonderful Kathi Appelt’s Counting Crows, a very different counting book. Of course, it does rival that recipe for Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies, which I may have to try very soon. Thank you so much for sharing both of these and I hope your teds enjoyed both.


  13. You always have the funnest posts! this is the second look at this book I’ve seen today. It’s so cute and I love the ants and crackers. And you found the puuuurfect (well, there *was* a cat) red and white recipe to match. Love!!!


  14. The book is great! Love the way you described everything and I never knew so much about crows. I think they have a bad reputation. LOL

    My word, those brownies. Be still my heart. And that’s all I’ll say about that. LOL


    1. I think you may be right about the crows’ bad reputation — perhaps their black color is menacing to some. But once you learn about their intelligence, it’s a different story altogether. 🙂


  15. What a wonderful post, this will be another I need to get for the little niece and nephew. And it is so appropriate that I have all the ingredients for those delectable brownies!


  16. This book looks like fun in so many ways… the language, the illustrations, the tactile enhancements (ooh, that sounds naughty somehow). And then of course your brownies to make sure my salivary glands get in on the fun as well!

    I must ask, though, Jama, do you really have plastic ants (I assume that they’re plastic!) hanging around the house for decorative purposes? Surely they’re not edible cake decorations!


    1. You are quite naughty with your tactile enhancements! tsk tsk 😀

      I do have plastic ants hanging around the house — not for decoration but because many moons ago, I published Truman’s Ant Farm, and used to enclose ants in my letters to fans and friends sometimes. I actually collected a few other ant-related things too — blocks, puzzles, stuffed toys, etc., which I used on school and bookstore visits. Thanks for asking! You are fANTastic !


  17. I’m not usually a fan of crows – I’ve encountered an aggressive caw or two – but I’m looking forward to checking out this book. Kathi Appelt can do no wrong. Thanks for the great intro to this new book, Jama! Always a pleasure. =)


    1. You will change your mind when you read more about THESE crows :). I agree with you in your assessment of Kathi’s writing chops. So talented!


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