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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A ONE, TWO, THREE COLOR SNACK
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. 🙂
RASPBERRY CHEESECAKE BROWNIES
- 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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This 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.