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New Book Challenges Kids to Be Creative!

See the number 2 in the curl of a kite string floating high in the sky? See the fancy 9 in the contours of a conch shell? Arlene Alda's 1-2-3 challenges readers to look at photographs -- and the world -- in a different way. This book, a companion to Arlene Alda's ABC, will suggest many extension activities for students from K to college. Included: Activity suggestions from the author!

Swan Image Get out the crayons! Get out the cameras! Arlene Alda's 1-2-3 (Tricycle Press) is a natural for follow-up activities that encourage students to look at the world around them with a critical eye, an artist's eye. Show students how Alda has captured in her lens the number 4 in the crossed legs of a flamingo? Do they see the number 7 in the bend of a drinking straw? Every reader will enjoy finding the numbers in Alda's striking photo images.

The fun won't stop there, however! Challenge students to create their own photo or picture books. They can uncover unusual numbers in their classrooms, at the grocery store, or at the park. You can probably create other natural extensions.

Sound like a great activity for third graders? Nuh-uh! This is one of those activities that will challenge and develop an artistic vision in students of every age. The level of sophistication may vary, but the results are limited only by your students' limitless imaginations and creativity.

Hand each student a disposable camera and take a walk, or let students wander the school with drawing tablets in hand. See how many numbers they can find!

Why stop with numbers? Check out the author's earlier book, Arlene Alda's ABC, and let students scour the world around them for the letters of the alphabet. Do they see the A in the yellow sawhorse? Do they see the U in the necklace draped around someone's neck? What other letters do they see?


Alda is a former symphonic clarinetist and music teacher. She is the author of numerous books for children ( Sheep, Sheep, Sheep, Help Me Fall Asleep and Pig, Horse, Cow, Don't Wake Me Now) and for adults ( The Last Days of M*A*S*H). She is also an accomplished photographer whose work has appeared in The New York Times and Life and People magazines. Alda's photographic talent comes to life in 1-2-3 and ABC. In each book, she captures the beauty of nature and the magic of ordinary objects with her camera.

1,2,3 Book Cover For her latest book, Alda selected photographs that offer a surprise and shift in perspective on every page. The book counts from 1 to 10 and then turns right around and counts back again -- 20 brilliant photographs, no text required!

The photographs Alda chose "encourage readers to take a closer look at the world around them and notice the processes at work as a candle flame flickers or shadows play on the water," she says. "I think of these photographs as visual music."

What better time than this month -- Youth Art Month and Music in Our Schools Month -- to challenge students to make their own "visual music"!

If you use this activity with students in the upper elementary grades or higher, you might share with them the books of Stephen T. Johnson -- including the Caldecott Honor-winning Alphabet City and his 1998 release, City by Numbers.


Do you want to extend the use of 1-2-3 and ABC? Are you looking for activities that will help build students' perception skills? Alda shares some suggestions with Education World readers:

  • Ask children to draw objects that look like numbers or letters. For example, a snake can look like an S or elbow macaroni can form a C.

  • How many letters and numbers can children identify in their homes, on the playground, or in the classroom? Have children race to see who can find the most.

  • How many letters and numbers can children find in the branches of an old tree?

  • Have children work in pairs to create numbers or letters with their bodies on the floor. Others can guess which shape they've made.

  • Use large plastic or paper numbers or letters to play a camouflage game. Hide numbers and letters by matching their shapes and colors with objects in a room. Have children find the numbers and letters in counting and alphabetical order.

  • Children can collect objects on a nature walk. Ask children to paste the objects (sticks, leaves, eggs, feathers, etc.) on paper or poster board to make number and letter art.

  • Suggest that children use numbers and letters as a starting point for drawing pictures. An S can be the beginning of a racetrack, an F can become a flag, and an M can be the inspiration for a mountain range.

To help students think about looking for numbers and letters where they might not ordinarily see them, Alda suggests asking these simple questions:

  • Which numbers look the same upside down as they do right side up? (Answers: 1 and 8.)

  • Which number written backward becomes a letter? (Answer: 3 becomes E)

  • Which letter becomes a number when you turn it sideways? (M becomes 3)

  • Which number becomes a letter when you turn it upside down? (7 becomes L)

  • Which number becomes a higher number when you turn it upside down? (6 becomes 9)


Arlene Alda's 1-2-3 and Arlene Alda's ABC, both published by Tricycle Press, are available in bookstores. If you are unable to locate a copy of either book, ask your bookseller to order it for you, or contact the publisher at P.O. Box 7123, Berkeley, CA 94707.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1999 Education World

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