CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 21 . . . . June 20, 2003
Although the cover title is simply 1 2 3, the book’s back cover contains an unofficial subtitle, A First Counting Book, A First Art Book. Initially, the second portion of this subtitle may seem to be a bit surprising, but the CIP data confirms this role for the book via the subject heading, Art, Modern-Juvenile literature, while the back cover also explains that author-illustrator Slaughter’s “vibrant prints are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum and have been exhibited around the world.” Consequently, while parents and other adults may be using this book with youngsters as a way to introduce the numbers from one to 10, they should also consider Slaughter’s paper cut illustrations as being an introduction to the larger world of art.
Each pair of facing pages deals with a single number. Initially, the number appears on the left page while the illustration with the appropriate number of objects appears on the right. However, when seven is reached, the items spill over onto the left page as well. Slaughter’s brightly colored paper cut illustrations are elegantly simple and yet subtly complex. For example, a rich red apple on a yellow background illustrates the number one. Child “readers” might simply say to themselves that there is one apple, but, if they consider the apple further, they will see one black stem, one green leaf and the single bite that has been taken from the fruit. Similarly, with the number 2 which is visually represented by a pair of reversed white on black silhouettes of eye glasses, each pair of glasses has two arms and two lenses. Consequently, in each illustration, the viewer/reader is challenged to find how the number visually manifests itself beyond its initial and obvious representation. In the concluding illustration, Slaughter presents 10 apple tress, nine being small and one large. The large tree bears nine apples while the tenth is falling to the ground. The other nine smaller trees all bear 10 apples with the exception of the tree in the bottom left hand corner which only has nine. Is the missing apple just an illustrator error, or is Slaughter playing with his readers by saying that the “missing” apple is the one with the bite taken from it that readers met when they first began the book?
Reviewers are not supposed to assess what a book does not do but are only to comment on how well a book did what it attempted to do. Nonetheless, given that the unofficial subtitle described 1 2 3 as “a first art book,” and given the generally deplorable state of art education in public schools, an opportunity was lost by not using the book’s last page to assist adults in “seeing” the art aspects of the work.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children’s and YA literature at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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