I recently discovered Kathryn Otoshi and we LOVE her books! These are Sprinter’s current favourites 🙂

When I first flipped through the pages of ‘Zero’ at a bookstore, I thought it was just another maths book teaching kids how to count. (I normally put such books back onto the shelf.) But there was something unique about this one which made me flip through it once more, and I am glad I did! This book is a gem!(and the other two too!)

When you read the books to your children, you might want to start with ‘One’ first. I am not sure if this is the first book Kathryn Otoshi wrote… but it leads into ‘Zero’ nicely. Not the other way round. I explain why in my next post.


What an incredible book this is! My heart rate shoots up just thinking about the book (sounds crazy I know…) but there are just so many reasons why this book is SO brilliant!

This story is about bullying and Otoshi has created, written and illustrated the characters in such a way that it perfectly encapsulates the bullying cycle, making it easy and simple for the young ones to understand.

"Everytime Red said something mean and no one spoke up, he got bigger, bigger and bigger." A bully feels powerful when they hurt others.
“Everytime Red said something mean and no one spoke up, he got bigger, bigger and bigger.”
A bully feels powerful when they hurt others.

There are many books about bullying but a few told with such a refreshing, original and attractive angle. Using colours and numbers instead of human characters also makes the story very accessible. Children of all ages can appreciate this story. With the younger kids, the storyline itself is very powerful. You can use this to talk about feelings, friendship, respect and bullying. With the older ones, you can go deeper and peel those layers because this book gives you the scope to do so! These were the teachable moments I used during our reads…


1. Friendship – We want to be more like Yellow (who comforts Blue when he’s down) and not Red (who bullies his friend). Real friends care and look out for one another. A good friend is one who knows how to be sensitive to the other person’s feeling. Comfort your friend when he’s sad, console your friend when he’s upset.

2. Courage – Yellow and other colours sympathize with Blue but they do not speak up. Courage is doing the right thing when everyone else is afraid to do so.

3. It just takes one person to initiate change – ONE comes along, a lively, self-assured and confident friend who is not afraid to speak up. He sets an example and others are inspired and encouraged to do the same. The final message of the book is that “sometimes is just takes One.” What a powerful message!

3. Bully – I explained to Sprinter that a bully feels powerful when he bullies someone and unless someone stops him, he will only continue to grow to become a bigger bully!
Here’s how Otoshi’s illustrations are ingenious. You will need red paint (that’s the bully!), a clear glass bottle and a dropper to demonstrate this point.
We read the book the book again, and every time Red bullied Blue and nobody spoke up, I asked Sprinter to squeeze a drop of red paint into the glass of water.

Drop... drop... drop... see how Red dominates.
Drop… drop… drop… see how Red dominates.

One drop… two drops… three drops… slowly you see the water appearing redder and redder and redder. Ah! See how powerful the bully has become!
As we continue to read, other colours inspired by ONE stand up to Red and finally speak up against bullying.  Now, squeeze a drop of the other paint colours as the book says and see what happens.

Red 'loses' its power as other colours step up.
Red ‘loses’ its power as other colours step up.

The water is now a mixture of all the colours and with each drop we see the colour red less dominant. That’s right! If we stand up for ourselves and others we take away the bully’s power!

4. Ok, this is the most beautiful bit of this story and what makes this book truly stand out for me. Everyone finds the courage and speaks up against bullying, so now powerless Red rolls away. Yay! The bully is gone! Wait… no, It doesn’t end there. You see, just as Red leaves, Blue calls out and says ‘Can Red be hot and Blue be cool?” extending an olive branch instead of ostracizing the bully now. What an ending….


This is a really meaningful story and I really awe at how Otoshi uses just colours and numbers to convey this beautiful story. Here’s another layer you can add for your older kids… the story starts out with blobs of colour who later find themselves becoming numbers as they are each empowered. (The kids get really excited when colours turn to numbers!)

Did you know Otoshi's favourite colour is red and favourite number is 7?
Did you know Otoshi’s favourite colour is red and favourite number is 7?

To the younger ones, they are simply playing a number game… which Red eventually joins in (thanks to Blue) and becomes 7. For my 8 yr old niece, I challenged her to think about how the colours grew, learnt and ‘found’ their value. It takes courage to do what you believe in and define yourself. That’s how you discover yourself too.

Sprinter loves the story. He is SO captivated by the story that he asks me to read it again just as I finish the book. He has been asking me for more Otoshi number books. I had to disappoint him with just three.
I marvel at the depth of this story. Maybe it is just me, wouldn’t you?
Part II on the book ‘Zero’ is coming up. A must read too!