Poetry Friday: Take a Number

Take a Number
by Mary O’Neill, illustrated by Al Nagy

I’ve never been a big numbers fan, but that hasn’t stopped me from encouraging Nick to love them as much as his engineer grandfather. I was absolutely thrilled when Nick’s godmother – she of the vintage children’s books – gave us Mary O’Neill‘s clever book-length ode to mathematics.

(O’Neill is also the author of our favorite books about colors – Hailstones and Halibut Bones. She has a gift for making abstract concepts concrete for little ones…ah, poetry in action.)

From individual numbers to concepts like subtraction, division, this book has it all. And the best part is portions of the poem can stand alone.

Last night, we read all about the number 1.

What is One?
One is a number,
The beginner.
There are none
Taller, straighter, thinner
Than numeral 1.
One is any single thing:
A strawberry,
A diamond ring,
A book to read,
A song to sing,
A hat, a coat,
A birth, a death,
The inhale, exhale
Of a breath.

Counting numbers begin
With one:
One mouse, one tiger,
One cinnamon bun.
One, two, three, four,
Five, six, seven…
But one and one don’t
Make eleven.
The basic order of numbers
Is spun
By adding to each
Another one.
One is first,
One is prime,
One is once
Upon a time.
Unique is one,
Unlike the rest:
North, East
South, West.
One begins things
Fresh and new,
And there’s only
One of you.

Never before
The look in your eyes
Or the way you react
To Thought and surprise,
Never thumb prints
Exactly the same,
Or the way that you write
The words of your name…
Sometimes one seems much more
Than a single thing,
For one can be a country,
Or the season we call Spring.
One can be the universe
With all its planets spinning,
And one can be as tiny as
A grain of sand’s beginning….

Bonus: You can get this book for 1 cent. That’s a steal.


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