Oh, I have such a sweet book for you today! I’ve been waiting to see this one and the other day I spied it at the library, brand new, and jumped at it. Arriving just last year, but I believe late in the year, this book is a loose companion to this duo’s previous creations, When You Were Small, 2006, and Where You Came From, 2008 . I actually hadn’t seen those yet (so many books, so little time!) but I could not wait to share this one. I know it is a little early to be thinking of Mother’s Day, but if you are ahead of the game add this to your list. I couldn’t wait for my own purchased copy to get here before sharing, so here is When I Was Small by Sara O’Leary, with illustrations by Julie Morstad, 2012.
First off, I really love the lack of a dust jacket on this book. I’m really on the fence about dust jackets and the battle between their functionality in protecting the book verses the inevitable difficulty of keeping them on, in good shape, and gently treated in little hands. Until I can make up my mind on the issue, I appreciate the recent appearance of several new books that come originally sans jacket.
Ok, side note behind us, this dear story begins with young Henry gazing admiringly at a photo album and wishing he had known his parents when they were small.
With this first image, I’m hooked. This was most definitely me as a child. I used to pore over our family albums and wonder at the past. And just check out the amazingly simple illustration from Ms. Morstad of Henry’s face. It is just dripping with emotion. So lovely!
So, Henry begs his mother to tell him about when she was small. And here is where the story just takes off. Being an incredibly clever mother, Henry’s dear mum takes the question very literally and describes when she was small, as in a couple inches tall. If that didn’t put a smile on your face, please put everything else aside and really stop to think about that fun idea. Children who are always so literal and are in a continual battle to make sense of our very often not-literal world will just love this concept, a tiny little person and all that that entails. And so the story goes.
There are many favorite illustrations of mine in this book, but this one really rivals for the top. All those precious faces! And the clothes, and patterns. Oh, Ms. Morstad, I am indeed a fan!
With this picture, Henry’s mother begins her version of being small and how she was so tiny that her big name didn’t fit so everyone called her Dot. I just love the use of mostly black and white here, allowing you to not miss the sweet little girl in red that we are to know as Henry’s small mother.
The rest of the story is Dot sharing with a repeated phrase, “When I was small, …” and then she lists things like wearing the same shoe size as her doll, feasting on a single raspberry, the cat mistaking her for one of its kittens, and more. Each page is a delightful image, often with limited color or bursting with colorful details and sweet patterns.
The clean, simple pages are beautiful to look at and also give lots of room for the imagination to take flight with more ideas of what a world would be like as a tiny little person.
I won’t give away the lump-in-the-throat moment at the end, but you can trust me that this book is worth your time. I’m struck with how very girly the story feels (beginning with the pink and red cover, and including dolls, dollhouses, and such) without being gaggy, if that makes any sense. I am very curious if many young boys would care for this story; but I also know that the previous book, When You Were Small, is Henry’s story (even including a blue cover) so perhaps they are meant to feel very boy and very girl. Either way, I love this book desperately. As I said earlier, the concept of a little person is perfect for young minds. I for one was obsessed with stories like The Littles, The Borrowers, and Tom Thumb when I was small myself.
This is (unfortunately) my first introduction to Sara O’Leary, but I love what she has done. Her simple text has set a beautiful stage for Morstad’s illustrations and the imagination.
Julie Morstad is the illustrator of one of our favorite books from last year, The Swing, as well as several other beauties. I love her delicate style with very classic characters and an incredible eye for pattern. I look forward to seeing much more from her and thank her for adding such beauty to our reading times.
Please go find When I Was Small (and its companions!) and enjoy, not only your own memories of being small, but the brilliant ideas it is sure to spark in your little ones.