Book Review: Anno’s Counting House By Mitsumasa Anno

Hello friends! My apologies at the lack of posting due to sickness, family visits, and an American holiday weekend. I hope your days were lovely and I’m itching to get back to sharing some favorite picture books. Today’s book is a bit different, but it has made quite an impression on my illustration heart and I need to share it in the hopes that someone else comes to love it too. A wordless book, with the exception of a note to readers in the front and a note to parents and others in the back, this is a unique book about counting, math, details and observation. Let’s hope I do it some justice in my explanations. Here is Anno’s Counting House by Mitsumasa Anno, 1982.

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The book opens with this rather daunting spread that details how to use this book. I admit I skipped over it the first time I looked through the book. I despise lots of text when I approach a picture book. But that’s ok, it can be enjoyed, and greatly was on my part, without the text. If you happen to stop and do read the opening, Anno and mathematician/educator Fred Balin have given a nice guide about the purpose of the following pages.

In very short terms, the book is set up with two houses. On each spread you see the inside of one house and the outside of another.

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A fun delight comes with the die-cut windows on the front of a house that allows you to peek into the contents from the next page. In the beginning of the “story,” one house is very full of people and things while the other house is very empty. As the book progresses, you follow each person as they leave one house and move to the other.

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Furniture and knick-knacks disappear from one house and then can be spied in a different room in the other house. Each character has their own personality, style, and activities.

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I’ve been really struggling to decide what it is that I adore about this book, but I think it is rather simple. The details are amazing! Each page is worth intense study – examining all the items, the different pieces of clothing, and the decor of every room. Even the fronts of the houses are stunning with all the bricks, shingles, stones, and woodwork of the exteriors.

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The book is designed to teach counting as more than just memorized sequences of sounds. As the note in the end says, “It is important for children to grasp deeply, with their senses, the correlation between abstract symbols and specific objects in their observable world. … Matching, comparison, order, conservation of number, simple sets and subsets, shape, and position, changes over time periods, and odd and even numbers are but some of the many mathematical ideas that children can discover here.”

As I’ve discussed before, reading wordless books with someone can be a difficult task, and this book is definitely harder than most as there isn’t a set plot to discover. But the wonders it holds and the ability to release the imagination is really what has captured me. Yes, I think it is marvelous for all the mathematical things it can teach and I dearly wish things like this were used more often. (Being a visual learner myself, I would have loved this!) But I think it goes beyond math and learning and is why Mitsumasa Anno is such a master at his illustrations. There are stories within stories to be told, rooms and corners to be uncovered, questions and curiosity to be unleashed.

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Mitsumasa Anno is a special name in picture books. I was fairly unaware of him until I discovered one of his “Journey” books that takes a small character and has it travel through the landscape of a specific country. I completely agree when I hear that Anno’s books are not typical for the casual reader. “Anno’s books take careful examination and thought to appreciate.” (from Carol Hurst.) He has a beautiful detailed illustration style and his mathematician heart comes out in every page.

Keep your eye out for an Anno picture book. It just might be the wordless one that amazes you.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Anno’s Counting House By Mitsumasa Anno

  1. This is beautiful, thanks for recommending this illustrator- I had never heard of her/him – I just checked the book depository and they don’t have this one but do have one called Anno’s Counting Book which is a steal at under five euros, which thankfully meant I had to buy it!

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  2. This is the kind of book that I appreciate in theory and even personally but never know how to present to children. Maybe sometime you can write a post on how you’d present this kind of book to a child who doesn’t know how to approach it. In my experience, there are a few children who can spend hours with these types of books, but the rest flip through it, shrug in confusion, and move on. I think they could gain a lot from it if we could show them how, but I never know how. Anyway, thanks so much for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday. It looks fabulous!
    Tina

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    1. The introduction section is really very helpful for explaining how to use this book with a child. It talks about putting stones on each page to help count things, what items to notice and watch, and hints at stories to create about the characters. I too would probably be at a loss after the first time of looking through it, but found that section to give great ideas for encountering it in new ways every time.

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