Anno’s Counting Book

Anno’s Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno is one of those books that my kids and I looked at constantly when they were in elementary school. Starting with 0 and ending with 12, it’s the most complex and interesting counting book I’ve ever encountered.

The first page is an empty landscape, corresponding to 0. The wordless book adds objects to each consecutive page, corresponding to each number and reflecting the seasons, time of day, and other events in nature and human life. The number of objects in the landscape grows exponentially and symmetrically, and the detailed watercolor illustrations inspire careful examination.

Anno’s Counting Book is a helpful book for developing mathematical understanding of basic and, later, more complex concepts, but what makes it extraordinary is its evocation of the beauty of numbers. It inspires questions about beauty and what makes something beautiful, about whether beauty can tell us anything about truth, and about the relationship between mathematics and aesthetics.