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The Picture Book Buzz

Four Otter Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

Living in the Pacific Northwest, I enjoy hiking and camping. On these trips, I am regularly treated to glimpses of animals going about their routines. Or, as some of you know, I just stay home and photograph the numerous birds, bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, deer, and black bears as they amble through my yard. Sometimes, I even get the honor of seeing the young tagging along. Last summer, four woodpecker species brought their young to my feeders. It is so important to share these moments with children, to develop their appreciation and respect for these precious, and all too quickly disappearing species.

This week's #PPBF book is a stunning, lyrical, concept book about a mountain stream and the animals that live in and around it. This much awaited book by Vivian Kirkfield and Mirka Hokkanen either releases today (at Wordery,, & or April 1st (at Amazon). Wherever you go, I hope you coral these otters and their friends and enjoy this amazing book.

Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book

Author: Vivian Kirkfield

Illustrator: Mirka Hokkanen

Publisher: Pomegranate (2019)

Ages: 3 - 6



Counting, nature, colors, and conservation


Water wakes. Wildlife greets the day and finds shelter, safety, and fun on the river in this lyrical, ecologically oriented counting book. One willow flycatcher, two dragonflies, three kit foxes, and more thrive in their habitat. As kids count, the day turns from dawn to dusk, and the character of the water changes as quickly as a child's moods. Animals sing, leap, tiptoe, toboggan, hoot, hunt, flit, flutter, and hover. They ride out a storm, bask in waning rays, and tuck in under the silver moon.

Filled with modern wood engravings, Four Otters Toboggan celebrates wild beauty, encouraging readers of all ages to preserve and cherish our planet. After the story is finished, children can read more about each species in the back of the book, conservation efforts, what causes animals to become endangered, and what people can do to protect wild habitats.

Opening Lines:

Water waits.

Dawn breaks

in a chorus of bird song.

ONE willow flycatcher whistles

as the night slips silently away.

What I Like about this book:

The minute you pick up the book, you know you're in for a treat. The frisky otters tobogganing around in a circle with their friends are stunning. Doubly so when you realize they are carved block illustrations.

The first spread gives you a sense of the life and light that Mirka captured in her illustrations. You can almost hear the willow flycatcher singing and feel the dazzle of the rising sun upon the water. She also added other animals (notice the elk) and plants specific to this habitat, which combined with Vivian's in-depth back matter, makes this an excellent book for starting a discussion on environments and conservation.

Text © Vivian Kirkfield, 2019. Image © Mirka Hokkanen, 2019.

This is a concept book that not only counts to ten, while looking at eleven animal species that live around the stream, it moves through the day from dawn to dark. Then Mirka adds an additional layer by using unique colors for each page.

Text © Vivian Kirkfield, 2019. Image © Mirka Hokkanen, 2019.

Finally, each two-page spread lyrically begins with something water does. For example, it "waits," "ripples," "calms," and "roils." This book contains so many ways to engage kids of multiple ages.

Text © Vivian Kirkfield, 2019. Image © Mirka Hokkanen, 2019.

On a craft note, Vivian employs alliteration, internal rhyme, and varying lengths of sentences to set the tone of each scene. "Ears twitch. Tails switch. THREE kits eagerly sit," for young foxes trying to wait for mom's return and "NINE yellow mud turtles stretch out their necks, sunbathers soaking up the last rays before leaving their log," for the slow, relaxed turtles eking out the last ray of the sun. Additionally, Vivian has written a wonderful, circular beginning and ending - "Water waits. Dawn breaks" . . . "Dreaming of the promise of tomorrow’s sunrise, water waits."

In addition to being a soothing bedtime story, this book would make a wonderful addition to any library or class, with its ability to span the interest and educational milestones of many ages.


- check out the "Otterly Awesome Companion Activity Book" that Mirka Hokkanen created;

- think about ways you can help the environment with conservation activities from Woodsy Owl & the US Forest Service;

- make an otter ( and/or other animal/bird ( puppets and re-enact the story or create your own counting or environmental story; or

- create a diorama of the story's animals and habitat.

If you missed Vivian Kirkfield's interview on Monday, (here) and/or Mirka Hokkanen's interview on Tuesday (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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