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donnaodonnellfigurski.com - GRANDFATHER COUNTS
by Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Ange Zhang
Ages 5 to 8

When Gong Gong arrived, Helen’s life turned upside down. I mean, he couldn’t even speak English. How was Helen going to communicate with him? Sure, he was her grandfather, but why did mom have to give him Helen’s bedroom? Why couldn’t Gong Gong sleep in Cece’s room . . . or Henry’s? Helen loved standing at her bedroom window to watch the trains hurry down the tracks. She loved counting the cars from engine to caboose. Now Gong Gong was in her room with only Chinese in his head.

Andrea Chen tackles a wide range of emotions in her book entitled, GRANDFATHER COUNTS. Children will easily relate to Helen’s feelings of anger and confusion, her feelings of guilt and fear, as they recount incidents in their lives when they have felt just like Helen. Then they will finally heave a sigh of relief when, at the end of the book, Helen and Gong Gong become friends. Who would think it could be numbers and counting that would bring them together . . . one, two, three . . . yi, er, san.

The illustrations by Ange Zhang are gentle, yet very expressive. Notice Helen and Gong Gong’s faces. They tell an emotional story in themselves.

In our American society, which is so culturally diverse, teachers will find GRANDFATHER COUNTS a great book for initiating class discussions about the differences and sameness of their students. Children will want to read or hear this book again and again.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
FROM the MOUTHS of KIDDLE CRITers: a critique group

“I think this book is happy and sad,” said Tina.

“The ending was happy,” said Cara, “because they got to know each other.”

“I agree,” said Ethan, “It was happy.”

”But when grandfather got off the plane, he felt a little sad because he thought the children could speak Chinese,” said Lily. Then she thought for a moment and continued. “And he was disappointed that they couldn't. I think this is where the story really begins . . . on the second page. The first page was like an introduction.”

Tina nodded, “I bet Gong Gong was unhappy because he was away from home and he didn’t understand anybody.”

“Right!” said Lily, “because he had been waiting to speak to his grandchildren. Then he realized they didn't speak Chinese because they were too old to learn it. I started to learn French, but I can't remember anything.” She giggled. “I was already too old.”

“In my kindergarten there was a boy who was Polish and I couldn’t understand him,” said Tina. “It made him feel sad because we used to sing songs and he couldn’t. So he didn’t really sing. But he wanted to have fun, too.”

“He probably wished he could speak the language,” said Ethan.

“I’m Irish and he was Polish,” said Tina, “and that doesn’t really match up. The languages are different.”

“But, you don't need to speak the language to understand. You can point to stuff you want to talk about,” said Ethan.

“Yeah, you can even make hand movements,” said Cara.

“You know, I think Helen was sad, too,” said Tina. “She had to leave her room and . . . she wanted her bed to stay right where it was. “

“And she loved the background from her window,” said Ethan. “The railroad tracks were in the back of her house.”

“Maybe she liked how the train went by. She could wave hello to the driver,” said Lily. “I mean the engineer.”

“I liked the way Gong Gong and Helen counted the train cars,” said Cara. “My sister and I always count train cars, too.”

“You know, I think the train brought Gong Gong and Helen together,” said Tina. “When the train went by, he started counting and he was happy when he was counting. So Helen started to count along and they started to have a little fun. Then they taught each other words.”

“Gong Gong taught Helen, Chinese,” said Cara.

“And Helen taught Gong Gong, English,” added Ethan.

“Now they can communicate with each other,” said Lily with a smile.

“And I think it was a really happy ending . . . and the pictures are really nice,” added Cara.

“It kind of told you a real story,” said Lily. “This could happen to anyone.”


GRANDFATHER COUNTS is a great book to raise children’s appreciation of other cultures. Since many schools are a melting pot for a very diverse population of children, this is a good way to make them aware of other languages. Children love the sound of different languages. They love the mystery of them, too. So do I. Last year, eight countries, Columbia, Germany, Guatemala, Greece, India, Ireland, Philippines, Poland, as well as the United States, were represented in my classroom.

Here are some extension activities to use with GRANDFATHER COUNTS. Have fun!


Make manila and colored construction paper booklets (3” x 4 1/2”). Write one number and the number name (1 one, 2 two) on each page from one to ten. Children draw enough pictures of their choice on each page to correspond to the matching number. Make the first booklet in English. Then try to make a booklet for every language that is represented in your classroom. If your class is not as diverse as mine, choose languages that you and your children are interested in.

ENGLISH:1 One balloon 2 Two trees
SPANISH:1 Uno clowns 2 Dos dogs


Read FIVE LITTLE MONKEYS JUMPING ON THE BED by Eileen Christelow. Using the book as a guide, have the children recite the chant counting backwards from ten.

TEN little monkeys jumping on the bed, ONE fell off and bumped his head. Mama called the doctor and the doctor said, “No more monkeys jumping on the bed.”

Then change the English numbers to another language of your choice.

Ex. (Spanish)
DIEZ little monkeys jumping on the bed. UNO fell off and bumped his head. Etc.

Continue with the rest of the numbers.


Here are two websites that allow you to count to ten in more than 4,500 languages. WOW! So start counting.

How to Count to 10 in Different Languages

Numbers From 1 to 10 in Over 4,500 Languages


Use a world map to orient the children to their own location. Then locate China on the map.

If you like GRANDFATHER COUNTS or books about grandfathers or counting, you may also like the following books.
GRANPA’S FACE by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
KNOTS ON A COUNTING ROPE by Bill Martin and John Archambault, illustrated by Ted Rand
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All contents copyright (c) 2002. Donna O'Donnell Figurski.
No content may be copied or reproduced in any way without the express permission of the creator.
Clip Art courtesy of GraphicGarden.com

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