Love and Eight with Kathryn Otoshi’s ONE and TWO

For the past week, my social media feed has been full of teachers and parents seeking and sharing ways to discuss and comfort children and each other after the hateful and appalling events in Charlottesville. Because of this, I’ve chosen Kathryn Otoshi’s simple and powerful picture book entitled One for this Monday’s Math Book Magic post.

The Book(s)

Kathryn Otoshi wrote three books in series: One, Zero, and Two (in that order). This post is about her books One and Two. [Here is a video of a read-aloud of Zero if it interests.]

One was written and illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi in 2008 and published by KO Kids Books. It is a winner of 10 awards including the Teacher’s Choice Award and the Mom’s Choice Award. One is an anti-bullying, number and color book that introduces the concepts of acceptance and tolerance. The characters begin as different colors (Red, Blue, Orange, Yellow, Green and Purple). The colors (Blue in particular) are teased and bullied by Red who says things like “Red is Hot. Blue is not.”

Everyone knows a Red. Who’s the Red in your life? In your child/student’s lives?

Red ends up growing so big that everyone is afraid of him. That is….until 1 arrives and stands up to Red. Inspired by 1, the other colors transform into the numbers two through six and stand up to Red as well.

While picking up One at the local library to reread for this post,  I noticed Otoshi’s book Two sitting beside it and so I picked up Two too.

Two was written and illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi in 2014 and published by KO Kids Books. Two is a story about friendship, loss, and letting go.   Two‘s best friend is One, but Three gets in the middle of the two friends. Three convinces One to come over to the odd side. And so begins a great divide. “Odds are at odds with the Evens and the Evens want to get even with the Odds.” In the end, Two reconsiders its position and decides that it is best to be open to all potential friendships.


These three books (One, Two, and Zero) are recommended for ages 4 and up. This past Friday, I read One and Two with two of my children (Liam, 2nd, and Siena, K) and my friend’s son Darek (1st grade).IMG_7631 2


The Math

I first read One a few months ago with my children and we loved it. However I hesitated whether to add it to the blog.   Not because it isn’t magical. It is. But because I wasn’t sure it was mathematical enough. However, that all changed last week when I read a footnote in John Steven’s book Table Talk Math: A Practical Guide for Bringing Math into Everyday Conversations.

Stevens writes that while his degree is mathematics, he tries to “keep that train of thought out of conversations with (his) kids and work(s) to initiate conversations at (his children’s) level.” As I read the footnote, I recalled an experience earlier that week. During an eye exam, Siena was asked to identify a random sequence of numbers and letters. When she got to an image of the number 8, she was totally stumped. She could see it (as she described it as two circles), but she didn’t know the name for it.  As I watched her struggle to identify the number, I thought to myself “Why didn’t I know that she wasn’t able to identify one digit numbers out of sequence? How did I miss this?”

Steven’s footnote and Siena’s struggle to name eight made me realize that One had “enough” math all along. I just wasn’t looking at the mathematics with the appropriate lens. Studying these funny shaped numerals and working out what they represent is mathematical work for Siena and it is foundational. And so here is a bit about the math in One and Two as I see it now.

The book One provides opportunities for children to identify the numerals* (1-7). These abstract numerals are not paired with concrete collections of objects like is often the case in counting books. Only the numeral is on the page so children can follow along and connect which symbol goes with which number.

The book Two provides opportunities for children to identify the numerals 0-9 in out of sequence situations (i.e., an order different from 0, 1,2,3,…).  Also, on a few of the pages, the numbers represented in this book are divided into evens and odds providing opportunities for children to notice patterns in these sets.

*A numeral is a figure, symbol, or group of these denoting a number. While a number is the quantity or value.  For example, the numeral/symbol “8” represents the number eight, the quantity.  Historically there have been many  numerals (i.e., symbols) for the number 10. Roman numeral X for example or go here for more.

The Magic

It is amazing how Otoshi’s watercolor brush strokes and dialogue bring these abstract numbers to life.It is easy to see why One received an E.B. White Read Aloud honor. This book is such a wonderful one to read aloud.   Liam, Siena and Darek were in it from beginning to end.

They booed when Red got bigger…IMG_8118

And cheered when Red got smaller and 1.


And when 1 swooped in to save the day, Siena shouted out “Superhero!”

Final page of One


IMG_7636While I originally set out to write the post about One, I’m glad that I saw Two on the library shelf. These two books made a magical pair for these three children. There was something about reading them together, one after the other that inspired them to notice and compare the characters.  All three children were curious whether each number character was depicted the same in both books. For example, is 2 blue in Two like it is in One?  They were flipped back and forth between the books and were excitement as they made connections between the numbers.

Otoshi’s books One and Two are clever books with two significant themes for young children: Bullying and friendship. One in particular holds a special place in my heart and reminded me of this quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his book Strength To Love (1963).

Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.
Hate multiplies hate,
violence multiplies violence,
and toughness multiplies toughness
in a descending spiral of destruction….
The chain reaction of evil —
hate begetting hate,
wars producing more wars —
must be broken,
or we shall be plunged
into the dark abyss of annihilation.

I know most bullies will not be like Red and choose love over hate in the end. There isn’t always a happy ending.  However, Otoshi’s book offer way to talk to our children and students about what it means to be strong and brave when faced with bullying and stand up for what they believe is right and just. And to lead with love.

[Want to hear a lovely reading of One by some 1st graders? Go here.]

Have a magical math book you’d like share? Please go to the Shared booklist to find out how.  If you’d like to receive these magical math book posts each Monday, be sure to follow this blog in the side bar of this page.

Thanks and see you next Monday! #mathbookmagic


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