MTYT: Counting on Community

This post continues June’s My Take/Your Take conversation around books that highlight multiple forms of protest and the power of voice for younger readers. The conversation starts with The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!, continues with Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice by Susanna Reich and Adam Gustavson and now features Counting on Community. This week Dorea and Lauren consider the power of voice.

Counting on Community

LAUREN: Counting on Community, written and illustrated by Innosanto Nagara, differs from the other books in this text set, mostly because it is a concept board book, not a story or biography. After my first reading of the book with my two-year-old son, the theme of the power of voice did not stand out to me. Besides the page that reads, “Eight picket signs showing that we care,” I wondered how I could connect it to the other books.

Maybe I missed the connection because I focused on the counting concept of the book, “One stuffed piñata for every holiday. Two neighbor friends always there to play…,” or maybe I focused too much on getting the rhythm and rhyme right so it would appeal to my toddler. I read it again and again. As the author lead me through this community, highlighting simple but meaningful aspects of community life, I realized this does fit with the theme of the other books. In the two previous books, the concept of community is clear; the Rooster roused a community with his song and so does Pete Seeger. But before they can rouse their communities, they had to care and have a reason to sing. This concept book, Counting on Community, is for our youngest readers, our readers who are just starting to learn what community is about and why we should sing for it! This book shows young readers many ways a community comes together on any day … to celebrate special events, play with friends, work in the community garden, march for a common cause, or share a meal. This book shows how meaningful it is to be part of a community and that these everyday events make our communities strong.

After thinking more about the deeper meaning of the text, I went back to take a deeper look at the illustrations. I’m interested in the illustrations of a book and how they carry so much meaning. Besides the rich, vibrant colors, the illustrations do not look like any particular community. I can’t say where this community may be. The people are diverse and the settings are abstract. I could find my local community in any of these pages. Through his illustrations, Nagara invites even the youngest readers to see their own communities within the context of this One.

I’m curious to know your take, Dorea. I surely didn’t expect to write this much. What are your thoughts on theme, text, and illustration?

DOREA: Counting on Community is certainly different from our other books but this is exactly why it offers so much to our text set. My first reaction to this book, even before reading it deeply, is how the decision to publish it as a board book could, in itself, be considered an act of taking a stand and giving voice. This is not a book adapted into a board book, but an intentional decision to create a space that values our youngest readers as those who should be invited into the conversation.

While Innosanto’s previous book, A is for Activist, may seem like a more obvious fit for our theme, I also find the concept of community an important one to consider. Often “protest” and “voice” are portrayed as that which is loud and clearly visible, a specific event that occurs in response to a particular moment in time. Lauren, what you describe in your discussion of community, and what I think Innosanto captures so poignantly, are the little ways of showing up: shared meals, celebrations, making art and music, working and playing together. Because of this, and the the style of illustration that you describe, I am able to find my community (which is currently the middle of a rainforest in Panama) between these pages. These illustrations allow us to see ourselves and to consider the ways we contribute to and are nourished by our communities–or perhaps, the things we wish we paid more attention to.

The small things–and our smallest readers–are important. Without these to nourish us, it becomes too easy for our voices and actions to fade.

And while this changes the topic drastically, I have to ask… what’s with the duck? While I understand that finding the hidden duck on each page is a way to engage young readers, I’m confused about this choice in the context of this book. Any thoughts?

LAUREN: I’m glad you brought up the duck, I was trying to figure that out too! I was going to pose that same question but waited to see if you would bring it up. It is understandable that Nagara would include the hidden duck on each page as a way to engage young readers, but I can’t help but wonder if the duck character has a greater purpose.

Perhaps the duck is the narrator. If you look at the first page, the duck seems to look at the reader. The text on that first page reads, “Living in a community, it’s a lot of FUN! Let’s count the ways. Let’s start with ONE.” “Let’s” makes it sound like someone is telling the story… maybe it’s the duck? The following pages include a duck. Sometimes the duck is hard to find, but it’s there. (Can you find the duck on the potluck page? I did after the tenth time reading the book!)

Maybe the duck is a newcomer. Maybe the duck is trying to find a community to be a part of, checking everything out… playing with neighbors, eating at a potluck, taking a swing at a piñata.

Or maybe the duck is already a member of the community, but a little different from everyone else. Maybe that duck is at every event, but stands out a little more than the others because that duck engages in a different way. Maybe that duck is a dancer when no one else is dancing; maybe that duck quacks its song when everyone else is quiet; maybe that duck is like the Rooster, the community member who gets everyone to speak up.

This would be a good question for our young readers… who is the duck?

Title: Counting on Community
Author/Illustrator: Innosanto Nagara
Publisher: Triangle Square Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 9781609806323
Date Published: September 24, 2015

This is the third installment of June 2017’s My Take/Your Take. To follow the conversation, start with The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! and move on to Stand Up and Sing!

2 thoughts on “MTYT: Counting on Community

  1. Hi, thanks for this very thoughtful take on Counting on Community and A is for Activist. It’s a book we love here at Triangle Square Books for Young Readers (the children’s imprint of Seven Stories Press), and not only because we are the publisher! We have a lot of respect for our friends at AK Press, but they are not the publisher of these books. Can you update your info?
    Thanks!!

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