When Sheep Cannot SleepI hadn’t heard of author/illustrator Satoshi Kitamura until Mama Funk began taking a course in children’s picture book illustrating (the course was analyzing picture books, not learning how to draw them). When Sheep Cannot Sleep: The Counting Book (originally published in 1988) was on the course’s syllabus, and rightfully so. This book sparked an animated discussion regarding the widely varying opinions on the illustrations. Some people didn’t get it. Others loved it. Some thought it spooky. Some people read into every illustrated detail: What does it mean that one of the 13 doors was open? Why isn’t anyone else in the house? Why did Kitamura illustrate only inside the bordered boxes on the page? And where are the rest of the sheep?!?

When Sheep Cannot Sleep: The Counting Book
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On (virtually) each page of the book, there is at least one item to be counted, in order, from one to twenty-two. But it’s subtle, Kitamura doesn’t explicitly say there are three owls. Wooly the sheep who cannot sleep  just happens to encounter three owls during his insomnia-filled walk. Then, on the next page, he sees a family (of four) bats. It’s double-fun for the kids, because they first get to solve the mystery of what to count before the counting begins.

And it gets trickier as it goes on. But don’t worry, there’s an answer key in the back in case you have trouble … as I definitely did on the first pass. One of the pages has two things to count, and a couple of the pages don’t have anything to count. But that’s okay, because it’s a good story with very pleasing illustrations.

I particularly appreciate Kitamura’s (again, subtle) humor. On one page, Wooly is drawing a picture (with 14 colored pencils) – the same picture that Kitamura drew of Wooly on the first page of the book.

I also have to admit, the book is a bit sleep-inducing. Something about the dark colors with the white pages, the calming, yet (I agree) somewhat spooky nature of the story. It’s causing my eyelids to grow a bit heavy as I type. I haven’t seen any more of the Japanese-born artist’s work (he now lives in England), but I’ll be sure to check more out of my local library very soon!