When it all adds up to a 5* book

posted in: Catherine Rayner | 1

abigailAbigail by Catherine Rayner is a gentle, joyous book about friendship, counting and enjoying the natural beauty all around us.

Abigail, a giraffe, simply loves adding up her numbers but keeps encountering difficulties; the leaves she is enumerating get nibbled by her friend Zebra, whilst Cheetah’s spots just whoosh past in a blur. Abigail’s clever friend Ladybird leads them to a meadow full of flowers to count, where the giraffe helps her friends to master 1-10. But as dusk falls will the friends be able to continue to count in the darkness?

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The maths of this book work out very well:

Seemingly effortlessly beautiful, fluid illustrations (full of splotches and savannah like colours)
+
A tale of friendship woven lightly together with a string of numbers
+
The fun of a fold-out flap (cf Augustus and his Smile, Harris Finds his Feet, and Ernest, also by Rayner)
+
A lavishly produced physical with its stunning dark blue and gold cover
=
A dreamy 5* picture book

To find out a little behind the making of this book, you might enjoy the interview with Catherine over on The Book Sniffer’s blog.

For an equally charming take on counting with animals and the majesty of the night sky, pair Abigail up with Dog Loves Counting by Louise Yates. Alternatively, you could read Abigail alongside another book about a clever ladybird: What the Ladybird Heard by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks.

Inspired by the twinkling heavens in Rayner’s book we explored how we could achieve a similar starry night sky using watercolours and salt (Catherine herself uses a variety of media and methods, including liquid acrylic inks, watercolours, pencil, crayons and silk screen printing).

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First the girls did a “wash” with purples and blues, the aim being to go from lighter colours to darker colours.

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Once the paper was entirely covered, we went over once more just with water to make sure the paper was quite wet, before sprinkling on large salt crystals.

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As the water dried the salt crystals had an effect on the paint; we were aiming for something like the halo effect you can sometimes see around stars (often an effect of filters on cameras/telescopes, apparently).

When the paper was completely dry we rubbed off the remaining salt crystals with a dry cloth, and then used white watercolour to add pinpricks of light at the centre of each star.

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Whilst painting we listened to various counting songs including:

  • One Fat Frog by Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke
  • How To Count To 20 by The Ukulady
  • Counting for Pleasure by Readeez


  • Other activities which could work well with reading Abigail include:

  • Making a giraffe, zebra, ladybird and cheetah to “play by the book” (click through for loads of creative ideas on each animal, from Artists Helping Children).
  • Making giraffe biscuits / cookies, like we did here, when we read Oh Dear, Geoffrey! by Gemma O’Neill.
  • Using a black umbrella and white sticky dots to create a mini planetarium as per the tutorial in this BBC Stargazing Live info pack.


  • When’s the last time you just stared up into a starry sky and watched the stars sparkle at you?

    Disclosure: I received a free, review copy of Abigail from the publishers. I was not obliged to write a review and I received no payment for doing so.

    1. Barbara Mojica

      Sounds like lots of fun….This is the second new book about a giraffe that I have come across in the last couple of days….must be giraffe week! LOL

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