A Gold Star for Kathryn Otoshi

Alison Morris -- July 29th, 2008

While meeting with my PGW rep recently, I read Kathryn Otoshi’s forthcoming picture book One (September 2008, KO Kids Books). While the topic of bullying is ages old, it is rare for me to read a picture book on the subject that doesn’t feel dated. Or unoriginal. Or preachy, or too tidy, or specific only to one type of bullying or specific incident.

One, though, doesn’t fall into any of these traps. It’s simple enough to use with young children, but thought-provoking enough that I think it’d make a great read-aloud for older students too. (Middle school teachers, I’m talking to you!) The simple illustrations, comprised of splotches of color and (later) large brushstroked numbers, depict two concepts in clean, bold fashion: one person can make a difference, and everyone counts.

In One, a big red splotch of color named Red is bullying a smaller blotch, Blue. Yellow, Orange, Green, and Purple (other blotches — can you guess what colors they are?) see what’s happening but are too afraid to stand up to Red. Soon Red starts bullying them too. Growing larger, Red now towers over the other splotches, who cower in Red’s presence. Then One arrives (a grey 1), his sharp lines enabling him stand tall in in the face of Red. One stands up to Red, who backs down. Let me give you a taste of the text, to show you what happens next.

One turned to the colors and said,
"If someone is mean and picks on me,
I for One, stand up and say, No."

Then Yellow felt brave and said, "Me, TWO!" (illustration: the yellow splotch is now a yellow 2)

Green agreed and said, "Me THREE!" (illustration: the green splotch is now a green 3)

Then Orange became FOUR. (you get the idea, right?)

And Purple became FIVE.

Feeling emboldened by the others’ example, Blue stands up for himself too, becoming (yep) SIX. Furious, Red attempts to roll over Blue (now a blue 6), but all the numbers line up together and say "NO!"

Defeated, Red grows smaller and smaller and begins rolling away until Blue calls out a hesitant invitation for him to join their ranks. One tells Red that "[He] can count too."

Red rocked and rolled and turned into… SEVEN!

All the numbers then announce, "Everyone counts!"

Then Red laughed and joined the fun.

Sometimes it takes just One.

I love the power of this book’s simplicity, and its originality too.

ONE more reason to love this book — Otoshi’s dedication, which appears at the back: "To indy booksellers, my librarian friends, and loyal readers. You keep my spirit alive."

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