Kathryn Otoshi, Publishers Group West, 2014

When Two’s best friend One starts spending time with Three, Two feels left out, but when Four, Six, and Eight try to help, they only create a new divide between the odds and evens, until Zero steps in and sets things straight. This is another great story that helps build values with themes like friendship, loss, letting go, and self-discovery.

I recently made the mistake of using this book with children that were a little too young. Whereas Otoshi’s One and Zero hold the attention of preschoolers to Grade 1/2, this title uses bigger concepts that need explaining to young ones: odds and evens, greater than, less than, “playing the odds”. In my opinion, the read-aloud aspect loses some umph in this title…not as fun and a bit more difficult to hold the attention. Despite this, the point Otoshi makes through the ‘zero’ character is that we can find a different way to make it fun to dance with everyone. This makes the work the storyteller must do through the exposition worth it.  The book is ideal for slightly older elementary – grade 3 and up?

Even if this story needs some adult explanation with young children, it’s an excellent launching pad for a discussion on the ebb and flow of friendship. All of us, even the youngest among us, have awareness of what it’s like to be included or not. We also can acknowledge that whether in friend groups or with siblings, three is a difficult number. Relationships with one other is simpler, adding a third to the mix makes those relationships more complex with sharing, with competition, with anxiety over our place and security. Finding creative ways to include and diffuse the tension of “us” versus “them” is a lifelong skill that ought to start when we’re very young. It doesn’t get any easier in the online world, in the balancing of friendships from different circles in our lives, and the bullying that can happen when differences are accentuated rather than embraced as unique opportunities for growth and learning.

Kathryn Otoshi is brilliant in the way she weaves these character development conversations into her books. Grab any and all her books: One and Zero are must-haves too!



Kathryn Otoshi. Publishers Group West, 2008.

Blue is a quiet colour. Red’s a hothead who likes to pick on Blue. The other colours don’t like what they see, but what can they do? When no one speaks up, things get out of hand — until One comes along and shows all the colours how to stand up, stand together, and count.

This is an amazing story, told in an accessible way for almost any child 4+. The fact that the characters of this story are colours and numbers means that this story of bullying and possible responses is appropriate for anyone – children, teens, adults, seniors. I use this story to enter conversations about how we can respond to a bully, and that there are many possibilities. Most students get taught in school to tell a trusted adult. This is good and important information, but what else? There is a need to say stop to a bully. Of course, this can’t always be done safely, or individually. When a group is inspired to stand up for others, the norm of acceptability can change, the culture of bullying can be transformed, positive results can happen. The message of this story? It often only takes one to inspire a group to do the right thing. Bystander research shows this: inaction might be the default, but as soon as one stranger helps another, it gives permission to other bystanders to get involved alongside.

There’s a sense of realism to this story when the bullying red grows bigger as his anger increases. Likewise, when he is stopped by the others, he returns to normal size. This is an excellent conversation starter around how bullies like to increase their own size/power at the expense of others.

The book ends with an invitation for red to join the other colours. Sometimes this is possible with a bully, and sometimes it isn’t. But this is a fantastic glimpse into offering inclusion as a way of resolution, as long as (and this is important to discuss with children) that it’s safe and the offender understands the boundaries of behaviour and that the group won’t tolerate other instances of bullying.

All in all, this book easily leads to conversations about possible action to take when confronted with a bully, safety issues in standing up and saying ‘stop’, the importance of our responses when we see others being bullied, and even how we might think about inclusion and reconciliation.

We’ve used this book at our annual “Pink Shirt Day” when we pledge to do our best to create an anti-bullying atmosphere. Kathryn Otoshi has created a fantastic story and a wonderful entry into a difficult topic for all ages.

The Sneetches

Dr. Seuss
New York: Random House, 1961

Themes: inclusion, equality, inner worth, jealousy, justice, prejudice, discrimination, outer differences, friendship

The Star-Belly Sneetches think they are the best, and look down upon Sneetches without “stars upon thars”. The Plain-Belly Sneetches remain oppressed, prohibited from associating with their star-bellied counterparts. They learn a lesson when Sylvester McMonkey McBean (“the Fix-it-up Chappie”) comes to town and teaches them that pointless prejudice can be costly.

This story is a great one for teaching all of us the danger of making judgements based on outward appearances or even perceived differences. Once McBean comes to town with his star-off and star-on machine, there’s no more telling who’s who anymore. The Sneetches are left without money, but also without the source of their prejudice. The confusion helps all the sneetches to recognize that there is no declaring anyone is ‘the best Sneetch on the beach’.

The story leads very well into a discussion about what we can learn from the Sneetches. We are all different, whether its due to our outward appearance, how we think, what we eat, or who we love… These differences, like the stars on the bellies, are not a good reason to exclude. They are opportunities to celebrate our uniqueness. It is so important to reinforce with our children that they are valuable and that each person is equally valuable, although uniquely different. Where and how it matters, we are the same. We are human, we all want to be included.

What matters is how we might try our best to act like the Sneetches that are revealed at the end of the story, rather than those at the beginning. If we can include others, if we can reach out to someone that seems different…come out of our comfort zone in order to make that connection…we will soon learn how similar we are, and how we can learn from each other’s differences.

This is one of Dr. Seuss’ finest…It’s amazingly fun to read out loud….and its worth reading again and again.

Ollie and Claire


Tiffany Strelitz Haber and Matthew Cordell
Toronto: Philomel Books (Penguin Readers Group), 2013

Themes: friendship, routine, boredom, adventure


Description: Ollie and Claire are as tight as two friends can be. Every day they picnic together, do yoga together, and eat dinner together – all on a precise schedule. But when Claire longs to break free from this routine and dreams of traveling the world, she worries that Ollie would never join her. So she takes matters into her own hands when she  responds to an anonymous sign she sees posted in town: “Travel friend wanted for round-the-world journey! Come circle the planet with me!” Who could it be? And how can she ever tell Ollie that she’s leaving to have an adventure? Ages 3-7

I like this story because it might be just the right conversation starter for those who might feel the need to mix things up every once in a while…and who doesn’t? Even children can feel the weight of routines that don’t leave space for any adventure. I’m remembering my very free-range childhood where I’d have to fill whole weekends with either alone or with friends. How that differs from how many kids experience their young years today- with programs and schedules and with very little time to just explore and create fun from scratch. Digital screen time, while fine in small doses, doesn’t provide the same call for creativity and ingenuity.

  • What was Claire worried about when she started planning her adventure?
  • How would this story be different if Claire had talked to Ollie about wanting an adventure?
  • Is it fair to think of different friendships as providing us with different opportunities? Some more adventurous, some more safe and routine?
  • How much routine and how much adventure do you prefer? How do you balance them both?
  • What are some things we might do if we need a change in our routine?