IT’S NOT EASY BEING NUMBER THREE
by Drew Dernavich – Henry Holt and Company (Christy Ottaviano Books), 2016
ages 5 to 10 years / funny, s.t.e.m.
I once had a three-year-old who said he wanted to be a professor when he grew up—but he didn’t know what sort of professor, ‘because there are so many interesting things to be’.
Number Three in this story is in pretty much the same boat. There are just so many things a ‘3’ could be. The hump of a camel for example. Or a ship’s anchor.
This is a terrific book with an engaging story and a fair smattering of existential angst going on.
Number Three wants to try out all that life offers, even though it’s cryingly obvious to all his readers that his true calling is as a number.
Number Three is quite successful in his new work—he makes a brilliant sculpture and the list of other possibilities seems endless.
Ultimately though, Number Three is simply too important as a number, and he misses the role he was born for.
There’s a fine line between crushing hopes and dreams and valuing the life you were born to lead - but this story does a great job of valuing all of Number Three’s ideas and choices.
There are plenty of nods to the human condition for adults as well as kids; Number Three thinks he has found his place in life as a sculpture and enjoys the adoration he gets for a while, but eventually it all starts to feel a bit hollow - as adoration so often does when it’s not accompanied by purpose and contribution.
There are funny moments scattered all through the story; the humour comes partly from the absurdity of a number being unhappy with its lot in life and partly through clever wording and pictures. I laughed at the page showing Number Three dressed incognito for the State Fair.
There are heaps of great jumping off points for more learning. Number Three is written in words whenever the character is on show and as ‘3’ in the pictures—ideal for talking about reading and writing numbers.
There’s a whole lot of fun to be had finding Number Three as he tries out new work, like the hem of a dress, the mouth of a cat and so on.
And there are pictures with an edgy, urban feel to them (author/illustrator Drew Dernavich is a cartoonist for The New Yorker and a whole slew of other great publications). You can see some of his very funny cartoons here.
Although it would probably be quite hard to come up with other roles for Number Three after seeing all the clever ideas in the book, it could be fun to try to find new work for other numbers. (Number Seven could work as a nose on a cartoon face or as door handle for example—but I’m sure imaginative young minds can do better than that!). And it could be fun to write a story about another number using the same storyline.
This is a bright and snappy story that will appeal to kids who are beginning to conceptualise numbers, and to the adults who read it to them.
...some good jumping-off points for writing:
And, great for a gift, this very funny collection of rejected cartoons from The New Yorker that includes some of Drew Dernavich’s work.
P.S. The ‘professor’ has grown up and settled on teaching English and Media Studies—so far at least.