Four Otters Toboggan – Perfect Picture Book Friday

I never thought I’d be smitten by a counting book. And I’m still not smitten by a counting book, because FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN is so much more than that.

It’s an ode to nature, a prayer, a salute, a love letter, a bedtime lullaby—all in the guise of a counting book.

First the love letter signed by the author, Vivian Kirkfield, and the illustrator, Mirka Hokkanen.

Image ⓒMirka Hokkanen

Every line in this book is a love letter to the natural world. Through specificity of language and image, the interplay of poet and artist.

“Water waits.

Dawn breaks

in a chorus of bird song.

ONE willow flycatcher whistles

as the night slips silently away.”

Text ⓒVivian Kirkfield Image ⓒMirka Hokkanen

Let those words flow over and around you like water. And let the wood-engraved images shimmer. The colors are so delicate, photos don’t do them justice.

Further along, two dragonflies dance, a school of bonytail chub feed in a frenzy, three kit foxes tiptoe, four otters toboggan….and so on throughout the day until we reach ten. Each image, each stanza filled with reverence for the natural world. But then—


A silver sliver hangs

in the night sky.

Dreaming of the promise

of tomorrow’s sunrise,

water waits.”

See what happened there? We’ve come full circle through a day, and realize that this glorious world will be here for us when we awaken. But even more than that, our world will continue on long past the time we are here to witness its magnificence.

Image ⓒMirka Hokkanen

The cool colors selected for the images are delicate and soothing. Even the end papers with their insects climbing blades of grass are finely wrought. I’ve never read a more exquisite counting book.

Vivian also includes a glossary describing each species in much more detail, a “Did You Also Spot” grid of animal images for kids to go back through the pages to find, and an age-appropriate description of endangered species classifications. So many reasons to love this book! It can be used in the classroom or at home to foster an appreciation for nature, serve as a mentor text for writing poetry, and to calm those bedtime/naptime heebie-jeebies. Oh, and it can also be used as a counting book.


Cut out pictures from old magazines to make a collage of animals. Older children can group them by ecosystem/habitat.

For older children, use this book as a mentor text for writing poetry. Find places in the text where alliteration, metaphor, or other poetic language is used. Write poems about water or animals that create different kinds of emotions.

Play animal trivia games at this World WIldlife Fund website.

Find more teaching resources at the World Wildlife Fund. 

TITLE: Four Otters Toboggan

AUTHOR: Vivian Kirkfield

Illustrator: Mirka Hokkanen

Publisher: Pomegranate Kids, 2019

Ages: Preschool-1st grade

Themes: nature, counting, poetry

For more perfect picture books, please visit Susanna Hill’s blog.


16 thoughts on “Four Otters Toboggan – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. Vivian Kirkfield says:

    My dear Jilanne! I am over the moon…silver sliver and all…about this incredible review! THANK YOU so much for posting it for Perfect Picture Book Friday! And THANK YOU so much for detailing all of the reasons you love it! I am so grateful! It was one of the first stories I wrote…I remember, in 2013, when I submitted it to one of the 12×12 agents, he sent back lovely feedback…he raved about the poetic quality…but he didn’t want it…or me. And it went through many, many revisions. Once I signed with Essie, she sent it out many times…always getting great feedback…one editor said it was the most beautiful story she every read, that she got lost in the musicality of the words, that every child should have a copy…but…no thank you…it was too quiet for her list. So I was thrilled when Cory Mimms at Pomegranate fell in love with it…and with Mirka’s art…and bought it. And that’s the thing…we just have to keep going and never give up on our stories or on ourselves. And thank goodness for friends like you, Jilanne, who are always there to support and encourage.

  2. Beth Anderson says:

    You took my thoughts right out of my mind and said them better than I could. I just got a copy of this book and yes, much more than a counting book! I will sit back with the book and absorb all you said! Love hearing your path to publishing this gem, Vivian. Just goes to show – we need to keep at it and hope to get it in front of the right person who will love it enough to take it on.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Thank you, Beth! I’m glad you have a copy in your hands right now. It is worth sitting with and then returning to, over and over again. You can tell that everything about this book was selected with such care. And so true about finding the right editor who wants to publish your story.

  3. Andrea Mack says:

    This sounds like such a lovely book, Vivian! Jilanne, I love this review. It really highlights all the ways this book is a star!! I will have to find a copy.

  4. Diane Tulloch says:

    Wow! Love your review Jilanne of Vivian’s Four Otters. I agree with everything you say. I remember this story when it was under a different title in it’s very early stages and I instantly fell in love – with the writing, how I felt instantly drawn in and it’s musical rhythm. Even though I don’t write in rhyme I still find it a great mentor text. Thanks for sharing.

  5. authorlaurablog says:

    WordPress has made me jump through hoops and change my password to comment on this! 🤷🏼‍♀️
    Great post about a book I’ve been lucky enough to read, hold, and enjoy.
    Lyrical writing without rhyme is actually my favorite style whether in picture books or novels. I love the way Vivian makes the reader pause, linger, and reread some of the beautiful language.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      WordPress can be quite difficult on occasion. That has happened to me, too. But I’m so glad you were able to get through! So true what you say about pausing, lingering, not rushing through to get to the end. It makes me feel like I’m out in nature, observing, and enjoying its beauty in a kind of timeless suspension.

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