John Archambault and Bill Martin Jr.'s
Knots on a Counting Rope
Illustrated by Ted Rand
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Sitting beside a campfire, under a sky filled with stars he can't see, a blind Native American boy persuades his grandfather to grace him with one more telling of the boy's own life.
Boy-Strength-of-Blue-Horses was born sickly and sightless on a stormy night. But he has grown strong, even learning to ride his horse, Rainbow, and race her no less in a match against sighted boys.
Knots on a Counting Rope is presented as a dialogue between the two characters. As the boy teases his own story from his grandfather, he fills in the pieces that are most familiar to him.
For that reason, it's an odd read-aloud unless two people read together. There is no narration, only conversation. Two parents could read together, or a parent with a child old enough to read.
A "counting rope" refers to the small rope the grandfather keeps and ties a knot in every time he and Boy-Strength-of-Blue-Horses share this story.
When the rope is filled with knots, the boy is to know his own story well enough not to need it told.
Allusion is made also that when the rope (already rather full) is done, there will be no need for Grandfather any more, and this subtle theme of death and its acceptance appears a few times throughout the story.
(If that theme is of interest to you, you'll also want to read our review of Annie and the Old One.)
Yes, this is a rather full story, covering blindness and sickness, growing up and dying, all the while capturing beautifully the desire of youngsters to hear their own life made worthy of mythologizing.
Knots on a Counting Rope is a Reading Rainbow Book and was one of School Library Journal's Best Books of the Year at the time of its publication. (Many, many moons ago!) This is a book worth reading whether or not there's a blind child in your family's life.
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