A mid-century love story about the loneliest number, its quest for belonging, and its eternal soulmate.
In the late 1950s, legendary graphic designer Paul Rand and his then-wife Ann set out to write and illustrate a series of children’s books, beginning with Sparkle and Spin in 1957. The second book in the series, Little 1, was published in 1961 and enlisted the same playful dance of wordplay and bold, vibrant, minimalist images in introducing the young reader to the numbers from 1 to 10 through a heart-warming story about friendship and belonging.
The deceptively simple illustrations juxtaposed with seemingly basic concepts — like, for instance, the concept of “how many,” the idea of sets that we take for granted but that is, in fact, a triumph of human cognition and a cognitive challenge for the young brain — parallel Umberto Eco’s infatuation with semiotics in serving a bigger mission of exploring the symbolic relationship between text and image.
Some three decades later, in a 1993 interview, Steve Jobs, who worked with Rand on the design of the NeXT logo, captured a defining quality of Rand’s character that seems to permeate his children’s books, one that lived beneath his public persona as a professional curmudgeon:
He’s a very deep, thoughtful person who’s tried to express in every part of his life what his principles are. And you don’t meet so many people like that today.
Little 1 was followed by the third and final book in the series, Listen! Listen!, in 1970. It is long out of print and currently nearly impossible to find. (Do you have a copy? I’d love to hear from you.)
For more seminal vintage children’s book illustration, see the fantastic Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling.