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Mem Fox: Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

Mem Fox books Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, cover artMem Fox books Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, cover art
Title: Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little ToesMem Fox books Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
Author: Mem Fox, (illustrations: Helen Oxenbury)
Genre: Baby Board Books
Age Category: Infant to 5 years

Baby’s toes are one of nature’s wonderful features.  When I catch a glimpse of them I can’t help but marvel a bit.  The toe pads are almost perfectly circular.  And the skin is so fresh and pure-looking.  As parents know, they are also great for tickling and nibbling on…okay, okay, I’ll stop now.  Suffice it to say, for all you fellow baby-toe-lovers out there, this Mem Fox book is a gem that’s sure to make you and your baby smile.  It was first published in 2008, but has recently been released in a baby board book edition.

Mem Fox Book: Summary

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little ToesMem Fox books Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury opens with the following lines:

“There was one little baby who was born far away,
and another who was born on the very next day.
And both of these babies—as everyone knows—
had ten little fingers and ten little toes.”

The board book continues in parallel rhyming verse, ending each stanza (except the last) with the refrain of the last two lines, “And both of these babies…”  The first two lines of each stanza vary throughout the book, however, and refer to babies that differ in myriad ways, including variations on where they were born (in a town, on the ice, in a tent) and the condition of their health (one child suffers from sneezes and chills).  Helen Oxenbury’s illustrations add to the diversity, portraying boys and girls of widely varying ethnicity.

The only break in this pattern of verse comes in the last stanza, where the baby is described as follows: “But the next baby born was truly divine, a sweet little child who was mine, all mine.”  Although this baby has ten little fingers and ten little toes, it also has “three little kisses on the tip of its nose.”  The final image is of a mother lovingly placing these three little kisses.

Subjective Appeal: Beautiful Illustrations, Charming Verse

Several things make this baby board book attractive for young children and adults alike.  First, Oxenbury’s illustrations are (typically) beautiful.  The scenery is colorful and compelling.  For example, on the opening page (“There was one little baby who was born far away,”) Oxenbury portrays two children on the shores of a lake with a small town and mountains in the distance.  The long shadows cast by the children, the orange, purple, and brown hues of the mountains, and the yellow sky all suggest the warm lingering light of sunset.  The diverse faces of the babies are also fascinating to look at, and the baby toes are so cute! (Wait, I already said that…)

Second, Mem Fox’s verse is enchanting and funny.  The baby board book leaves the reader turning pages expectantly, to see what kind of baby will next be affirmed to have “ten little fingers and ten little toes.”  The verse makes excellent use of rhyme and repetition, which young children love. The book’s refrain (“…ten little fingers and ten little toes.”) is as silly and light-hearted as it is true (“Of course they have ten fingers and toes!”) and always provokes a smile or giggle.  The refrain is also perfect for accompanying gestures involving fingers and toes…fun!

Finally, the last pages of the book provoke a warm emotional connection between caretaker and child that makes the book endearing for both.  As I closed the book I imagined a young child’s response: “Again, again!”

Developmental Value: Multicultural Message, Parent-child Connection

In addition to its subjective appeal, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little ToesMem Fox books Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury reflects several qualities that make it developmentally valuable.  First, the baby board book has a subtle but clear multicultural message, conveyed in language that young children can understand.  Specifically, the child is reminded that while human beings are marked by interesting differences, they are also deeply the same.  This message comes through brilliantly in the verbal and visual diversity of the children in the book, and the book’s unifying rhythmic refrain: we all have fingers and toes! While this multicultural message is  complex and abstract to describe, the board book is shockingly successful at communicating it in terms that are concrete and intuitive for young children.

Second, the final focus of the book on the parent-child connection is also developmentally valuable.  The special love of a care-taking adult is affirmed, securing the child who is being read to.  Despite the portrayal of the beautiful partiality of a parent’s love for her child, this affirmation of the parent-child bond also has a hidden universality, i.e., the (near-) universal love of a parent for her child.  This too is beautifully securing for a young child.  It subtly tells her that her bond with her parent is just as it should be.  Thus, this baby board book helps to bond caretaker and child together.

Finally, the beauty and creativity of the book—both in its illustrations and its verse—is developmentally valuable.  Such excellence helps to awaken a child’s aesthetic sense.

In sum, I highly recommend the Mem Fox book Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little ToesMem Fox books Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes and urge you to find it in your local library or to support our work by purchasing it through the links in this post.

Have you read Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes?  What do you think?  Please leave me a comment!  Also, if you did find this review helpful, why not post it on Facebook or Twitter?  The “Share/Save” button below makes it easy.  Thanks!

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2 Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    This is such a beautiful book. We have most of Mem Fox’s but this is one of my absolute favourites (along with Koala Lou, Wilfred Gordon McDonald Patridge and Hunwick’s Egg).

  2. Aaron Mead says:

    Glad to hear it! I obviously thought it was great too. She is such an excellent author.

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