Knots on a Counting Rope — Perfect Picture Book Friday

November 16, 2012

Title: Knots on a Counting Rope

Author: Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault

Illustrator: Ted Rand

Publisher: New York: Henry Holt, 1987 (a different version of this book was published in 1966)

Genre: Picture book, fiction

Audience Age: 5 – 10 years

Themes/topics: birth, growing up, blindness, native Americans, relationship between child and grandparent, courage, self-confidence, love, enduring nature of love even after death

Opening Sentences: Tell me the story again, Grandfather. Tell me who I am. … I have told you many times, Boy. You know the story by heart. … But it sounds better when you tell it, Grandfather. … Then listen carefully. This may be the last telling.

Synopsis: A young Navajo boy and his grandfather are sitting by a campfire one night. The setting looks to be Monument Valley in Arizona. The boy asks his grandfather to tell again the story of who he is. Although the grandfather protests that the boy knows the story by heart, he tells it one last time. There is poignancy in knowing that this could be the last time the grandfather is alive to tell the story. There is also drama, lyricism and suspense. We learn through the story that the boy is blind, but that he sees with his inward eye, keenly and astutely, that he has courage, and that his grandfather will live on in him. The title is explained on the last page. “Now, Boy, now that the story has been told again, I will tie another knot in the counting rope. When the rope is filled with knots, you will know the story by heart and can tell it to yourself.” Through his story, the boy gains strength. Through his story, his grandfather will live on.

There is a great deal of text in this book, but I never once found it tedious, even though I have read it many times before. I could hear the grandfather’s voice, and the young boy’s voice, as if it were being dramatized before me. The text is lyrical and gripping. The illustrations are detailed and beautiful paintings.

Personal note: I first heard the original version of this book read aloud (when I was a young adult) in 1974. The story gripped me then, and it has not loosened its hold over the years. It was one that my mother loved, as well, and so, during this week in which I am remembering her with gratitude and love, this book seemed appropriate to share.

Activities/Resources: Asking a grandparent to tell a child the story of his or her birth and early years would bring the story into the here and now for children, and would create an extra bond between grandparent and child.

There are numerous lesson plans and activities for this book available online. These are just a couple of them.

Teacher Tube has a storytelling video.

StorylineOnline, a project of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, has a read-aloud video as well as activities.  Click on “more stories” until you find it – there are many other stories there as well.

Availability: Readily available in hardcover.


Every Friday, bloggers join together to share picture book reviews and resources, thanks to author Susanna Leonard Hill’s brainchild, “Perfect Picture Book Fridays.” Susanna then adds the books (and links to the reviews) to a comprehensive listing by subject on her blog. Find the entire listing at her “Perfect Picture Books.”


Note: I will have limited internet access this week. I look forward to reading and responding to your comments next week.

14 People reacted on this

  1. Yay, lots of native American books today. This links in superbly with mine from last week with its beautiful grandparent/grandchild relationship. I love the knotting symbolism. I love the use of light and dark on the cover.

  2. It is so easy to recognize Ted Rand’s beautiful illustrations. I love his work. Beth, we must have been tuned in again — Native Americans. You did a lovely job of reviewing this beautiful story. It has mutliple themes. I enjoyed the story very much.

  3. Wow! Lots of good stuff in this book. Native Americans, grandparents, a blind boy. All things close to my heart. Thanks for sharing this one. I’ll be looking for it.

  4. This book sounds amazing, Beth. I really want to read it. There is always an appeal, for children and adults, in hearing about where they came from, the night they were born, who they are, and in hearing those stories from their parents and grandparents.

  5. Joanna…I have always been entralled with Native American folklore, tales and art. This is certainly a perfect picture book…I love the intergenerational connection. Thank you for a wonderful review…I will have to try to get this book (for myself)!

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