Thursday, October 20, 2011

Anno's Counting Book

Anno’s Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno is one of those books that my kids and I looked at constantly when they were in elementary school. Starting with 0 and ending with 12, it’s the most complex and interesting counting book I’ve ever encountered.

The first page is an empty landscape, corresponding to 0. The wordless book adds objects to each consecutive page, corresponding to each number and reflecting the seasons, time of day, and other events in nature and human life. The number of objects in the landscape grows exponentially and symmetrically, and the detailed watercolor illustrations inspire careful examination.

Anno’s Counting Book is a helpful book for developing mathematical understanding of basic and, later, more complex concepts, but what makes it extraordinary is its evocation of the beauty of numbers. It inspires questions about beauty and what makes something beautiful, about whether beauty can tell us anything about truth, and about the relationship between mathematics and aesthetics.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Seeing ish-ly: what makes someone an artist?

Peter Reynolds' picture book ish tells the story of Ramon, who loves to draw and draws all the time. Then one day his older brother laughs at one of his drawings, and Ramon becomes preoccupied with making his drawings "look right." Finally he decides to stop drawing. His younger sister picks up one of his crumpled drawings and Ramon follows her into her room to retrieve it, where he sees many of his crumpled-up drawings hanging on her walls. She points out a drawing of a vase of flowers, which she declares is one of her favorites. Ramon tells her that the drawing was supposed to be a vase of flowers but he doesn't think it looks like one. "It looks vase-ISH!" she replies.

Looking at the world "ish-ly" opens up for Ramon his own way of seeing and gives him confidence that he can express what he feels and perceives, even if the finished products don't conform to a conventional view of the way things are supposed to look.

What makes someone an artist? How do we judge what is a work of art? What is creativity? Where does artistic expression come from? Is art worth creating even if it is not judged to be very good? I think this book can be used with students from elementary school on to ponder these questions. I'm going to try it this fall with fourth grade students as well as college undergraduates.