One Was Johnny: A Counting Book (Harper Trophy, 1991)
One Was Johnny: A Counting Book (Harper Trophy), originally published in 1962 by one of my favorites, Maurice Sendak, is quite a little treasure -and by little I mean that it actually fits in the palm of your hand! I stumbled upon this book when I was browsing the picture book section at Barnes & Noble the other day. I love almost anything Maurice Sendak, but this just might very well sit at the top of my list. One Was Johnny teaches kids to count to ten in a clever, fun, rhyming way. Done with simple illustrations and a minimal use of colors - various shades of blue, green, yellow, gray, black and brown - Johnny is shown as number one, sitting on a small stool near a table in his house, while peacefully reading to himself. A rat appears as number two, jumping on his shelf, followed by a cat, three, who chased the rat, then four, a dog who came in and sat.
Sendak runs through the numbers one through ten, filling up poor Johnny's room with a cast of rowdy characters, until Johnny gets annoyed and tells them that they'd better leave while he counts backwards from ten, otherwise he will eat all of them!
Johnny's facial expressions change from pleased with himself - for thinking of something so clever, while he begins to count - to angry when the monkey steals one of his bananas, to once again at peace as he happily resumes reading his book, all alone - they way he likes it!
I read this to my friend's toddler, Isabella, and she could not get enough. Normally, Isabella tends to have a very short attention span - that of a two year old! - but she planted herself right in my lap while I read One Was Johnny, not once, but twice! By round two I had her pointing to and naming all of the different animals in Johnny's room, and when we got to the picture of the turtle - who enters as number five and bites the dog's tail - Isabella pointed to him and said "Turtle's ornery!" Isabella's mom and I looked at each other and laughed - earlier that morning her mom had called her little brother ornery when he was being stubborn about getting dressed.
Below is a YouTube video showing a singalong version of One Was Johnny. I don't think the illustrations live up to the original ones in Sendak's book - Johnny wears a blue suit, not a cowboy costume - but maybe cowboys were really popular for little boys that year....