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First journeys to big ideas

Young readers are introduced to maths and language concepts in the latest picture books selected by Jane Doonan

10 Little Rubber Ducks

By Eric Carle

HarperCollins, pound;12.99

Ten Little Sleepyheads

By Elizabeth Provost

Illustrated by Donald Saaf

Bloomsbury Children's Books pound;10.99

Faster, Faster! Nice and Slow!

By Sue Heap and Nick Sharratt

Puffin pound;10.99

On the Road

By Susan Steggall

Frances Lincoln pound;9.99

The Other Ark

By Lynley Dodd

Puffin pound;9.99

One Yak Called Jack

By Darcie La Brosse

Jonathan Cape pound;10.99

Don't Count Your Chickens

By Simon Puttock

Illustrated by Ross Collins

Macmillan pound;9.99

John Locke's philosophy of "instruction through play" is happily at work in these picture books, which have strategies for learning about concepts embedded in the stories.

A newspaper report of a shipment of bathtub toys lost overboard from a container ship inspired Eric Carle to write 10 Little Rubber Ducks. In their company, reception and Year 1 children will plunge into dimensional prepositions, displays of "opposites", simple maths concepts, such as counting and using cardinal and ordinal numbers, get a splash of natural history, and enjoy a satisfying tale.

Like the bathtub toys, Carle's ducks drift apart once in the sea. Each meets up with a larger real-life creature in a different watery habitat, until the tenth little duck finds himself a new family.

Carle's mastery of cut-paper collage and paint is matchless. The turning pages reveal a sequence of breathtaking pictorial effects, with the sea so multiple in its blues and greens, and the presentation of each animal full of the force of nature.

Ten Little Sleepyheads, written by Elizabeth Provost and illustrated by Donald Saaf, is a satisfying new version of an old counting-backwards rhyme, starring anthropomorphised bugs such as the Sweet Potato Weevil and the Winged Desert Termite. All 10 bugs are identified, labelled and numbered on the end papers, so cross-referencing is a skill neatly built into the book, and children also might like to research what the bugs actually look like. Additional counting is encouraged by a repeated motif of flowering plants on every frame.

Sue Heap and Nick Sharratt feature opposites in Faster, Faster! Nice and Slow!, their third concept book for a very young audience, introduced in direct speech by a girl and boy called Sue and Nick. Their friendly voices in the simple text and their cheerful appearance in every picture brings an intimate, lighthearted quality to displays, which include "noisy and quiet", "large and small", and "lots of clothes and no clothes at all".

Readily identifiable objects and actions are pictured on a large scale in uninhibited colour.

Susan Steggall's On the Road, with its minimal narrative about a family car journey to the seaside, could travel equally well between language and art teaching. On the text level, as well as being ideal for beginner readers, it's a lesson in the use of 10 dimensional prepositions, which are illustrated in pictures: "across", "around", "past", and so on - and add all the typical things children can spot from car windows. Steggall has used collage to create compositions full of interest, with bold shapes in flat strong colour.All very handsome.

The text of Lynley Dodd's The Other Ark rocks along in rhythm and rhyme, is caulked with examples of alliteration, and paired with exuberant artwork.

Noah fills the ark, but the animals keep on coming, so he calls on his friend Sam Jam Balu to fill the second-best ark.

On board go "armory dilloes", "kangaroosters", "alligatigers", candy-striped camels with comical humps, and others besides. However, when it's time to raise the anchor the ark is so heavy it's stuck to the spot.

(No need to point out the inevitable consequence for the variety of the animal kingdom, should it be overlooked.) Year 2 children could be inspired by this verbal and visual romp to try creating and naming animals of their own and playing with figures of speech.

In One Yak Called Jack, by Darcie La Brosse, the eponymous hero is off to the fair, offering lifts to all his friends, one after the other - two ferrets, three crabs, four foxes, and many more - but they are too busy for the moment. When the tally reaches 54, they all show up to claim a ride.

Can Jack hack it? The text cunningly avoids direct reference to numbers until near the conclusion, so counting each set of animals is optional.

Don't Count Your Chickens, written by Simon Puttock and illustrated by Ross Collins, has a determined young heroine, Ruth-May Leghorn. She has indulgent parents, and what she wants, Ruth-May gets. She begins with one pet chicken and, never satisfied, ends up with 16 of them, plus 16 eggs, before her thoughts turn to managing squirrels. The game of doubling numbers is carried in a cartoon style with colour reminiscent of Starbursts (previously and more accurately known as Opal Fruits sweets) and Spangles.

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