Jay, Alison. 1 2 3: A Child’s First Counting Book. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2007.
Point of View: 3rd person
Theme: fairytales, counting, numbers, storytelling, reading, dreams
Literary Quality: “[O]ne little girl sleeping[,] two soaring wings[,] three little pigs…” Thus begins a counting story that takes readers through the fairytale dreamscape of a sleeping girl. The movement of the story peaks at ten in what what might be described as a fleeting nightmare with the “ten sharp teeth” of the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood. The next spread shows Beauty fleeing the Beast, who holds “nine perfect roses,” and from there eases into more calm and delightful moments of the fairytales. Whimsical oil paintings add to the enchantment of the journey, and a crackle varnish lends an antiqued appearance to the illustrations, perfect for these age-old stories. The little girl can be found in every illustration, as well as an element from the previous fairytale and the one to come. For example, while we count “seven marching dwarfs” we see the pumpkin carriage from Cinderella and the gingerbread house that Hansel and Gretel find on the horizon. The paintings also all contain other things to count in sets of the relevant number — the three little pigs are surrounded by three hats, three teacups, three umbrellas, three apples, and so forth. While counting stories and adaptations of fairytales abound, this is truly a gem, delivering all the allure, alarm, and adventure of a fairytale in a form even the youngest readers can appreciate. A final page acts as a form of index, matching each illustration to its respective fairytale. Alison Jay’s artful weaving of conceptual and traditional story frames creates something altogether new and lovely.
Audience: All ages. A book that can easily be used one-on-one, as a read-aloud, or in a classroom setting.
Personal reaction: As soon as I opened this book and looked at just the first couple of pages, I knew it was something special. I (and my one-year-old) have been completely captivated by 1 2 3‘s charm. This is a story to read and read again. We always find something new.