Jenny's Picture Book Review: 'Counting Birds' by Alice Melvin

As a relatively new parent I have been appalled by the quality of some children's books. It seems people will buy anything if it says 'counting' or 'alphabet' on the front. You might have decent illustrations (although not necessarily, a travesty given the talent that exists in the world), but the text often smacks of being knocked up without thought on a Friday afternoon, often dull and engaging neither child nor parent.

Stunning endpapers!

Stunning endpapers!

Counting Birds  by Alice Melvin

Which is why Counting Birds by Alice Melvin is such a revelation. I picked it up in the Tate bookshop last summer, seduced by the illustrations and subject matter (Bloomfield's bird obsession again!). The images are beautiful - and the endpapers exquisite - but, less expected, the text is brilliant.

For once an author has had an idea and executed it with aplomb - I applaud her for it. Melvin takes us from a one solitary cockerel at dawn, through the day, to twenty birds on a pair of red patterned curtains shutting out the night; imaginatively weaving accounts of real birds with the images of birds that surround us. 

C  ounting Birds   by Alice Melvin

'The China's been laid out for afternoon tea.
Look - there are ten bids on the white crockery!

Eleven small chaffinches fly down to find
the raisins and crumbs that have been left behind.'

C  ounting Birds   by Alice Melvin

In a word it is 'charming' and not in a 'nice', dull sense of the word.  The language is flowing, satisfying to read and has real substance: Melvin doesn't shy from using 'big' words (Lynley Dodd's books share this trait) and has real way with a rhyming couplet.

'Nineteen black rooks flock in tumbling flight,
returning to roost in the darkening night.'

( I love this page)

Many many children's books end with a 'good night' page, often with promise of the new day to come, but this is my favourite to read aloud at bedtime:

C  ounting Birds   by Alice Melvin

'All are asleep now, so none of them see
the solitary barn owl awake in the tree.
With soft silent wings he slips into the night,
while the house waits once more for the dawn's half-light'