Saturday, April 20, 2013

Beautiful, Simple Books with Powerful Messages

Well, I have been slammed hard by the testing monster... my first year of teaching in the most tested grade level. We have already survived the writing test. (Well, we don't have scores yet, but I am more than pleased with the effort of my students.) But we still face math and reading tests this week. The last two weeks have been spent making sure everyone was up to speed in reading and math. And right in the middle came... an author visit.

My first thought was, "Really? You want to pull us out of class right before testing for an author visit?" I was less than willing to give up time with my sweeties. And for some author visits I have sat through, that would have been true... but not this one.

I had never heard of Kathryn Otoshi or her books One and Zero, although they were published in 2008 and 2010 respectively. Boy, have I been missing out! And I want to make sure you aren't doing the same.
I brought my students into the cafeteria where the presentation was all set up, and standing before us was a small, pretty, Asian woman (which was wonderful for my Asian ESL students to see such a role model). When she spoke, she commanded the room without being authoritarian or over the top. The students were fascinated as she read them her books and explained the stories of how they came to be. She even led them in a reader's theater of one of them.
Both books are beautifully simple in their words and illustrations, but carry powerful messages. One tells the story of how red bullies blue while none of the other colors stand up to red. Then along comes a number 1 who encourages the colors to turn into numbers against red's will. But because 1 refuses to back down, so do all the other number colors. What a brilliant way to convey the message, "Sometimes it just takes one [to stand up to a bully]."
Zero focuses on believing in yourself, appreciating differences, and acceptance. In this story zero is sad because it has no value and can't count along with the other numbers. Zero tries to change and become something it is not, but it never works. Finally, zero is inspired by former bully red (who is now a number 7) to see itself as open and not empty. Zero shows the other numbers how to count even higher by adding a zero to each number. This book could even be a great way to introduce skip counting by 10s and some place value. Again, absolutely brilliant!
When we got back to our classroom, we had a discussion on the books and the author, and every single one of my students got the messages communicated. 
I have added these books to my collection, and I would urge anyone trying to teach these values to do the same.


  1. Rachel: I have both of these books and my kids love them... even at sixth grade! The messages are powerful and the books allowed for great discussions.

    Thanks for sharing about your author visit. Good luck with testing!

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

  2. I love these books too! Our counselor uses them to talk about bullying. How exciting that you got to hear her speak.


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