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Count on this silly sheep for a smile

As any parent knows, young children often find it hard to go to sleep, but reading about Russell may make the experience easier on everybody involved. Russell, you see, is a sheep who can't fall asleep either.

Parents will immediately get the joke. Children will laugh out loud at the expressive pictures of the goofy sheep as he conjures up creative ways to induce a visit from the sandman.

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Maybe it will help, he thinks, if he finds a soft pillow (a frog who hops away) or locates a better bed (the trunk of a rusty car is too cramped, and a hollow tree is filled with bats). At one point, concerned he is too hot to sleep, Russell even takes off his "wool" coat, leaving him shivering in his underwear, a hilarious image.

Despite everything he tries, the bug-eyed ruminant with the long striped stocking cap still can't drift off to dreamland.

Hmm, Russell muses, what if I counted things to make me fall asleep? First he counts his feet. Then, after counting stars - grand total: six hundred million billion and ten - he eventually decides to count his fellow sheep.

One ... two .... three.... He finally falls asleep after he includes "one very important sheep" - himself - in his count.

"Russell the Sheep," the first picture book by Rob Scotton, has gotten rave reviews from critics. The response at my house was the same. My son and daughter, ages 3 and 5, giggled with delight at his antics. They took turns tracing the long contours of the cap all the way down to its fluffy white pompom tip.

My kids counted along with Russell as he numbered the stars and his friends. Russell's creator understands children's ability to create fantastic numbers. Just the other morning, my son came up with "20 hundred million."

The book contains a few smiles just for adult readers, such as these headlines in the Daily Bleat newspaper: "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing Scandal" and "Sheepdog Trials - 6 Guilty Verdicts." That's an added bonus for parents who are likely to read "Russell" over and over to their children. When I brought the book home it instantly went to the top of our reading-with-Daddy book list.

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John Nordell is a Monitor staff photographer.