Monday, November 21, 2011

Got numbers?

I totally underestimated City Numbers by Joanne Schwatz, pictures by Matt Beam (513.5 ScS 2011 PIC BK). Going in, I thought this was just another counting book with pictures from a cityscape. That’s okay, I just didn’t have high expectations. Then I kind of went “grrr…” when I found out that Library and Archives of Canada gave it a subject heading ‘Toronto (Ont.) Pictorial works’ because all the pictures were taken in Toronto. Strike two! (Maybe you have to be from Canada (and not Toronto) to understand my “grrr…”. Anyhow…)

I really, really liked this book.

Yes, it is a counting book starting with zero (or 000 to be more precise) going up to twenty. But there are some unexpected inclusions as well. We get fractions, decimals, percents, and ordinals of numbers, too. The last number in the book, 062336212021, was included because it “so much more fun” than 21.

The photographs are the prize here. There is a random feel in the selection of pictures chosen to illustrate each number. Many of them are not ‘pretty’ pictures but rather depict the wear and tear of everyday life in a big city. Paint peels from signs, metal rusts, and other numbers are slightly obscured because they are faded or snow-covered. The numbers come from packaging, advertisements, signs, addresses, sidewalk/ground markings, and many other locales that we city dwellers are most often oblivious to. This selection of pictures - these seemingly no-nothing photos - take on a whole different meaning when compiled together. Context is everything here.

This is not the book you’re going to bring to a kindergarten class to teach counting. There are math connections but for older kids.  Consider using this book at higher grade levels. Its real impact will be as an art book. This is the kind of book that will act as inspiration and model for students to look more closely at their surroundings and create for themselves, a book like City Numbers.


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