"review" · Children's · Illustrator · Picture book · recommend · Uncategorized

{illustrator} david small


It has been a while since I highlighted an illustrator and that is just what I am going to do.

Do you follow “7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast?” I do. They deal primarily with illustrated books and their illustrators and David Small was being talked about the other week, February 7th. Jules was looking at the recently released Dial picture book One Cool Friend written by Toni Buzzeo and illustrated by Small. You may remember that David Small wrote and illustrated the graphic memoir Stitches (W.W. Norton & Co., 2009). I reviewed it. I decided to check out more of his picture book work.


A bit about David Small, in snips from his site’s biography page:

“David Small was born and raised in Detroit. In school he became known as “the kid who could draw good,” but David never considered a career in art because it was so easy for him.” [Eventually, and fortunately, a friend convinced him to pursue an art career anyway.] “After getting his MFA at the Yale Graduate School of Art, David taught art for many years on the college level, ran a film series and made satirical sketches for campus newspapers. Approaching tenure, he wrote and illustrated a picture book, “Eulalie and the Hopping Head”, which he took to New York, pounding the pavements and collecting rejections for a month in the dead of winter. “Eulalie” was published in 1981. Although tenure at the college did not follow, many more picture books did, as well as extensive work for national magazines and newspapers. His drawings appeared regularly in The New Yorker and The New York Times. A learn-as-you-go illustrator, David’s books have been translated into several languages, made into animated films and musicals, and have won many of the top awards accorded to illustration, including the 1997 Caldecott Honor and The Christopher Medal for “The Gardener” written by his wife, Sarah Stewart, and the 2001 Caldecott Medal for “So, You Want To Be President?” by Judith St. George. To date he has illustrated over 40 picture books.” The “date” being concurrent with his working on Stitches.

image from The Library by Sarah Stewart.

I picked up three picture books of which David Small is the illustrator from the Library; too small a sampling compared to his proliferation, I know; but I would share them with you just the same.

7-Imp: What is your usual medium, or––if you use a variety––your preferred one?

David: I use a sheet of good imported rag paper. My line work is done with brush & ink, sometimes a nib pen. I add watercolor washes with touches of pastel chalk.

That Book Woman by Heather Henson (Atheneum, 2008)

 That Book Woman is inspired by The Pack Horse Library Project, a 1930s WPA carried out in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. It is a precursor of the Book Mobile, where (primarily) women rode horses packed with books and kept routes throughout the mountains distributing books to the rural homesteads to encourage and improve literacy.

Cal is not the readin’ type. Living way high up in the Appalachian Mountains, he’d rather help Pap plow or go out after wandering sheep than try some book learning. Nope. Cal does not want to sit stoney-still reading some chicken scratch. But that Book Woman keeps coming just the same. She comes in the rain. She comes in the snow. She comes right up the side of the mountain, and Cal knows that’s not easy riding. And all just to lend his sister some books. Why, that woman must be plain foolish — or is she braver than he ever thought?-publisher’s comments

Cal moves from resentment to an understanding of why his sister spends so much time in a book and why his (multi-generational) family outright encourages it. The story values both work and education, indeed, what shows a greater determination and passion in their work than the Pack Horse Librarians. “I year to know what makes that Book woman risk catching cold, or worse,” Cal says. Both the Librarian’s and Cal’s risk-taking find reward.


Princess Says Goodnight by Naomi Howland (HarperCollins, 2010)

When a little girl pretends she’s a real princess, her imagination soars and her bedtime routine is transformed into a majestic affair. While practicing curtsies on her way to bed, she gets the royal treatment: chocolate cream Éclairs, glass slippers, ladies-in-waiting, a tiara—even a bubble bath with a special fluffy towel to dry her toes. Being a princess is so much fun! But at bedtime, there’s one thing a little girl—or a princess—always gets: a kiss before saying goodnight.-publisher’s comments

Princess Says Goodnight imagines how it must look for a princess would say goodnight aka go to bed, even while teh reader must imagine what actions correlate to the little girl’s saying goodnight.

Princess Says Goodnight is playful, but quiet, not eye-popping candy-colored or sparkly energy. The girl is vibrant sure, but the wash of colors and movement is softened.  The text is rhythmic, the words are lulling. It is a good bedtime book. And one that is good for a sibling who likes to have their special time in play and intimacy with their parents. This is a really nice tuck-in-bed book that shouldn’t exhaust with re-reading even while it should prove useful for those who desire a cooperative and calming bedtime.

Naomi Howland:Your style is so fluid; nothing looks labored at all. Do you do a lot of preliminary drawings first?

David Small: It’s sleight of hand! All illustrators aim for the Effortless Look, but even someone whose work is as loose as Quentin Blake has admitted publicly to laboring over and throwing away a lot of pictures. (When I read that I felt a very brotherly feeling for Mr. Blake, and grateful to him as well, for admitting that he doesn’t just toss things off.)

interview between author/illustration from Naomi Howland’s site

Elsie’s Bird by Jane Yolen (Philomel, 2010).

 Elsie is a city girl. She loves the noise of the cobbled streets of Boston. But when her mother dies and her father moves them to the faraway prairies of Nebraska, Elsie hears only the silence, and she feels alone in the wide sea of grass. Her only comfort is her canary, Timmy Tune. But when Timmy flies out the window, Elsie is forced to run after him, into the tall grass of the prairie, where she’s finally able to hear the voice of the prairie-beautiful and noisy- and she begins to feel at home. Jane Yolen and David Small create a remarkable, poetic, vividly rendered book about finding one’s place in the world.–publisher’s comments.

 [Editor Patricia Gauch] also got one of her award-winning illustrators, David Small—an artist who I admired greatly and enjoyed personally—to do the illlustration. He also lies in that area and his wife has made a spectacular “prairie garden.”–Jane Yolen on writing/publishing Elsie’s Bird.

Elsie’s Bird focuses on the power of sound and song, as well as its value to many. It is very much about “finding one’s place in the world.” Like a caged bird may sing, Elsie could, too, but she was limited and she needed to see that. I adore the movements captured behind or around Elsie, sound making people and objects and actions. With Small’s fluid use of color and sketched-line–very animated, perfectly applied.

2 thoughts on “{illustrator} david small

  1. Wonderful! I love his illustrations. I promptly stopped reading for a moment, went to my library website, and ordered 6 or so books that his wife, Sarah Stewart, wrote and he illustrated, including The Library because I LOVE that image. Hopefully next week I’ll spend a day or two getting lost in children’s picture books.

    I don’t remember 7 Impossible Things very often so thanks for the reminder. I used to visit there more often and need to make it a part of my routine. But that routine just keeps getting bigger! LOL.

    I’m not sure how I would describe this “style” of illustration, but I do know that I adore it. There is a life to it, or at least it strikes me that way. That opening illustration is a good example. I almost expect his illustrations to start moving, cartoon-like, across the page. Small’s is the kind of work that I’ve described before as “deceptively simple”, meaning that it doesn’t have a photo realistic look and would tend to make someone classify it as “simple” and yet it takes an extremely talented person to be able to render images in that way.

    Thanks for the feature, I’m looking forward to those library books.

    1. “deceptively simple” –well-said. I was having a hard time articulating the qualities of his illustrations, so I tried to include plenty of images, and you hit on them. I think he removes the ofttimes static quality of photo-realism with the thicker or rougher lines and the water color.

      I hear you on how the routine just expands!

      I saw The Library on his site, and that image. i am going to hunt it down, too.

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