A Gold Star for Kathryn Otoshi

Alison Morris - July 29, 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."

19 thoughts on “A Gold Star for Kathryn Otoshi

  1. Ellen Mager

    Alison, I don’t know this book (I don’t have a PGW rep), but I love Steven Kroll’s JUNGLE BULLIES (Marshall Cavendish)for the same reasons you talk about, where the “bullies” behaviors are changed as each animal stands behind the animal doing the talking. The pictures do make it a lower elementary book, but kids (and adults) love it and the conversations from it have been terrific!

  2. annerenee

    I haven’t seen ONE yet, but your description of the characterization / concept sounds quite reminiscient of a classic children’s book & my favorite ~ Leo Leonni’s LITTLE BLUE AND LITTLE YELLOW ~ a master of the ‘simply profound!’

  3. Susan Copeland

    One of the responsibilities of my jobs is to meet with publishers and review books. It is from these titles that I make my selections to advertise them. I had just concluded selections from the Fall K-5 ctalog and the PGW reps showed me “One”. After they left, I read it, showed it to everyone in my department and announced that I predict we will be hearing about this book when the ALA awards come around. I immediately called the ad agency that was working on the catalog and told them they have to make room for one more title! This book is so original and creative that children of all ages will delight in both the message and the illustrations. It is a don’t miss, must have for every collection.

  4. Christopher

    The negative posts above are irresponsible, and show their authors either haven’t even read the book, or they have a personal agenda they are trying to push; how childish. Perhaps they are threatened by the genius that is self evident when thumbing through this beautiful piece of art.

  5. Roel

    I’ve bought some of the other books by Kathryn Otoshi so I was eagerly awaiting for this one as well. When I bought it my kids and I were not disappointed. My kids are about 6 and 4 and they thoroughly enjoyed the book and requested me to read it multiple times. I loved that it taught them primary colors, numbers and most importantly the message of intolerance. I cannot recommend this book enough and I believe this should be carried in schools to teach kids at a young age about intolerance. The reviews about it being a political message is very wrong. This is a great book for the whole family.

  6. monica holmes

    I saw Kathryn’s book last Spring when my rep gave me a sneak peak. I loved it! I think it is beautiful in it’s simplicity and gets the point across to young children. Teachers can use it as a spring board for discussion in the classroom. It has been a bestseller at Hicklebee’s this season.

  7. liz hockinson

    What I love about this book is that children will identify with the character blue. We have all been in situations where someone didn’t like us, embarrassed us, and made us feel insignificant. This book gives children hope that one special person can stand up and make a difference.

  8. Olma

    What a great book for young and old alike. The beauty is in its simplicity (writing and artwork). There’s nothing remotely political about this book at all – it’s pretty universal that the tone of blue used in this book is “calming” and “peaceful” (not representative of the Democratic party – gimme a break)! The message of the book is about standing up for yourself and for others, and to promote tolerance in a calm, cool and effective manner – not through angry, “red” means. Get it? Anyone who thinks Red = Mean = Republicans is too narrow-minded to understand this simple concept, so perhaps we would all do well to refrain from giving it too much weight and credence. From my perspective, the overall consensus is positive. Nothing but love for Kathryn Otoshi’s unifying ONE! It comes in perfect time as a great holiday gifts for family, friends, co-workers!

  9. Dave, indie bookstore owner

    Well, ONE is simply a masterpiece in its quiet, zen treatment of a challenging childhood issue. As a read-a-loud, it’s a great tool for getting kids to talk about bullying as they experience it. Classrooms and libraries, of course, but with its simpley beautiful design it’s in my personal collection and my bookstore as well.

  10. Alice

    I (a designer and mother) was immediately taken by the beauty and simplicity of ONE– but even more impressed by its writing and its message. It is in every facet, a work of art. Truly amazing.

  11. Abigail

    I love the simple beauty of this book–it presents its anti-bullying message without fuss, without hammering you over the head. What works especially well, and separates it from other anti-bullying books out there, is that the bully isn’t vilified or treated cruelly in turn–Red has a place, too. Using colors to explore this theme is a brilliant touch.

  12. Valerie Lewis

    I too give this book a gold star. When our rep first showed it to us, we passed it around our entire staff before returning it. Here was a book about bullies that crossed over the age line. Pre-school teachers purchase it along with their parents. Recently a teacher came into our store to thank us for showing it to her. After she read it to her class of 5th graders, they stood and applauded. ONE is perfect way to begin a discussion on bullying for all ages.

  13. Bill

    I bought his book because my kids loved her past books. But they were kind of disappointed, I suppose due to the lack of actual characters. Maybe this book is too intellectual for kids? I think her past books were much better quality.

  14. Melissa

    I absolutely love this book. The principal at my daughter’s elementary school read this book at a school assembly to over 250 kids. It seemed that all of them “got” it. I listened as the principal read and when the entire room burst out, “NO” to “Red” in the book… I cried. It is a beautiful book with an amazing play on words and a simplicity that touches hearts. The kids talk about what color they want to be. They identify with the colors and numbers and it opened the conversation that it is not enough to not bully or to not be bullied, but it is also important to stand up and say, “NO!” Everyone should own a copy.

  15. No thanks

    gibberish…this book will never stop a bully in any school..I suppose red is supposed to be a evil color? equated with satan and communism. I think I will stick with Dr. Seuss books for my kids

  16. bully victim

    my son found this book usefull in a confrontation with a bully…he smacked the bully on the head with the book…seriously the info in this book regarding on how to treat a bully is fantasy. The weak will NEVER join to gether to face a bully. If you look in the world of animals, the same applies. A predator will pick out the weak from a group and attack. What does the rest of the herd do? they walk ( or run ) away. Same thing happens in the world of people.


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