This book is a companion to Johnson's Caldecott Honor book, "Alphabet City", although it is a bit darker and more somber. Johnson has created photo-realistic paintings of New York City scenes that feature the numerals one through twenty-one, with some, (like the Figure 8 on the cover), being obvious and some, (like a number 6 created from cogs, gears and shadows), resembling those figures used in eye/brain recognition tests.
My first encounter with this book was when my five year old grandson pulled it from its shelf at the Children's Library. He plopped down on the floor and I plopped down right next to him and we poured over the paintings. Once we figured out the pictures were in order from one to twenty-one, and that there weren't going to be any words, we went to town playing number search. He got a lot of them on his own, and enjoyed getting the rest with some hints and suggestions. We both had a good time, and it was very rewarding to watch the little kid gears turning in his head as he searched the paintings.
Of course, this is all about shapes and numbers, but as Kirkus noted, it is also about visual literacy. We talked about photo-realist painting and about composition. And we had fun.
So, this is a game, a sophisticated introduction to composition, a bit of art instruction, and an all around happy book experience.