Little 1: Paul Rand’s Sweet Vintage Children’s Book About Numbers, Soulmates, and Belonging
A mid-century love story about the loneliest number, its quest for belonging, and its eternal soulmate.
By Maria Popova
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 (public library), 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.
Published March 27, 2012