book review: “zero” by kathryn otoshi

Yesterday, I participated in what I thought was a neat way to start the workday. My office is trying a new method to promote team building and strengthening so now we have a ten minute weekly huddle which gives us an opportunity to come together to voice our concerns, spotlight team members who provide above and beyond service, or recently helped a fellow teammate in their moment of need.

To kick off the huddle, my director Kristie decided to read a book “Zero” by children’s author Kathryn Otoshi, who she met last week at the American Literacy Association’s conference held in Anaheim, Ca.

Confession. At first I was like, “What is going on? Why is she reading a kid’s book in our staff meeting? I don’t have time for this!”

Five minutes later.

I was hooked, totally drawn in. I’m totally giving it a 5 chai teacup rating!

The combination of the words plus vivid illustrations…this book grabs you right from the start, as an effective picture book should.

“Zero” manages to teach a basic concept like numbers (great for kids), while simultaneously grabbing hold of something deeper and a more important life lesson (great for kids + adults). It totally connected to what we’re trying to promote in our office: team building, that we all count to build a strong, effective team. For a younger audience, “Zero” shares lessons in numbers and counting but also introduces concepts of accepting different body types, developing social skills and character, and learning what it means to find value in yourself and in others, even those who are different than you are.

I already adore this book. I like how it can serve as an inspiration to both children and grown- ups. It teaches life lessons that are often hard to grasp as adults and are even harder to speak to children about. And what awesome lessons to teach at any age and especially from an early age.

This is how the book begins…

“Zero was a big round number. When she looked at herself, she just saw a hole right in her center. Everyday she watched the other numbers line up to count: 1, 2, 3,4, 5 6, 7…! Those numbers have value. That’s why they count.”

Zero feels like, well, how do I say it…a zero! She desperately tries to transform herself into another number…any other number and fails miserably each time. How many of us can relate to this? How many times have you done something just to fit in – even as adults? Kids have even a harder time with this and are often bullied because of being different. How many kids do you know who don’t feel like they quite fit in at school or with their peers? Maybe you were that kid.

Zero’s journey eventually lands her in a spot where she finally feels like she fits in but better yet, where she feels as her true self…she can make a difference. It is awesome when she finally discovers why she is so important.

The book’s simple text teaches readers that every child, every adult, every thing for that matter has value and we each deserve to see our own worth. It highlights the value that each of us brings to the table, that there is NO greater value than that which we find in ourselves first. That we each have been granted an opportunity in this life to find that unique place where we “fit” and add value.

In the end, isn’t that what we all want? Finding where we comfortably belong?

I think so.

What’s more…I love how the importance of value, self-worth, acceptance has been captured in such a sweet and simple way.

I’m totally buying this book so I can start reading it to Jai now. I know he’ll love the pictures, colors and I can even start introducing numbers to him too. Plus it’s never too early to teach your child that he or she is important, has value and should never be bullied for being different.

You can buy “Zero” here.

Also check out “One” which is the predecessor to “Zero”. I haven’t read it yet but came across awesome reviews. Both books have received a long list of honors and I think would make awesome presents for anybody!!

Have you read “Zero” already? Did you love it as much as I did? What about “One” or any other books by Kathryn Otoshi? I’d love to hear your reviews!


ps+ below are some questions/activities you can do with your kids that the author herself shared at the convention…have fun!

ZERO -10 Questions
1. When the numbers line up to COUNT (1,2,3,4,5,6,7…), why do you think ZERO is left out? Do you think the other numbers are leaving her out on purpose?

2. Why do you think ZERO feels empty inside? What do you think she is missing? Do you ever feel empty inside?

3. Why does ZERO want to look like ONE instead of herself? Do you sometimes wish you looked like someone else? Why?

4. Who do EIGHT and NINE encourage her to look like them? Is this a helpful idea? Or not?

5. ZERO leaps and makes a grand entrance to impress the numbers. What do you think would have happened if ZERO was successful and she had impressed the numbers?

6. Why do you think the author chose SEVEN to be the number to tell ZERO “Every number has value.”?

7. What do you think it means to be OPEN?

8. When ZERO has a new idea, ONE tells her to “Lead the way!” Why is it nice that it is ONE who tells her this?

9. What does ZERO mean, when she says “if we help each other SOAR, we can count MORE.”?

10. How can you help someone to count MORE?

ZERO –Activity
“ZERO” exercise in finding value in ourselves

Purpose: If we think of ourselves as a circle, how do we ‘fill up’ our understanding of ourselves? Is it with positive thoughts or negative thoughts?

Instructions: Have your child draw a circle. Ask him to write what he LIKES about himself INSIDE the circle.

As an alternate exercise, have others (parents, teachers, other students, friends) write positive things about your child on the OUTSIDE of the circle. Hang it up on the wall somewhere in their home so your child can see and reflect on it. Is there a way he or she can use these positive things about themselves to help someone else in their life? Someone who could use their help?

Additional activities for kids:
• Depending on the age of the child: count to 10, write the numbers 1-10, or count by 10s or more.
• Talk about ways that each person in the family makes it more than it would be without them.
• Look for zeros on cereal boxes, signs and in the mail. What job is the zero doing?


  • Janet

    What awesome activities you have suggested! We loved this book and I am so happy we can extend the love for this book with your suggestions. Thank you so much! Keep them coming please!

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