Book Review: 123s Charley Harper & Gloria Fowler

Friday has arrived again and to greet it, I offer a peek at this gorgeous little book about numbers, but more a celebration of the graphically ordered chaos of nature. Here is 123s by Charley Harper, design by Gloria Fowler, 2008.

The work of American Modernist artist Charley Harper is so visually stunning. I absolutely love that Ammo Books decided to create picture books based around it. Being a bit of a design snob family, these are the kind of beautiful books that we love for ourselves and our child to be around.

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In this square board book, designer Gloria Fowler has set some of Harper’s lovely prints across from counting text: “1 ladybug lounging, 2 birds nesting, 3 chimpanzees playing….” The selection of images paired with strong san-serif text and a solid matching color is a combination worth awing over.

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Harper called his style “minimal realism” and in an excellent quote captured on wikipedia, he describes painting nature as “exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures.” Perhaps it is naive, but I like to think that all children view the world in this way – excitedly trying to make sense out of the different shapes, colors and textures. As we age, or what we consider maturing, we typically lose that excitement for the parts that make up the beautiful whole. We no longer notice the intricate details because we already “know” them and “know” what to think about them.

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Although many view this book as just another simple board book for babies; to me it is another example of a portable piece of fantastic art that every person should stop and ponder over. You probably don’t need to learn your numbers again, but I dare say you’ve likely never thought of the number 7 defining a group of watching fish in such a striking manner.

Most likely, there will not be many Charley Harper original pieces gracing the walls of our home; but with this great book, I can daily sit and delight in his graphic, colorful and minimalist view of nature that I so often don’t even stop and study anymore.

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