When You Were Small Hardcover – Jan 17 2006
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From School Library Journal
PreSchool-Grade 3–Each night, Henry asks his dad to tell him about when he was small, and his father relates how very small he really was: …we used to give you baths in the teapot…, and …we took the toy castle out of the aquarium and you were king of it. This is obviously an enjoyable nighttime ritual and it always ends with the child asking, 'Dad, is all that true?' 'Well,' says his dad, 'don't you remember?' The minimal text is accompanied by delicate illustrations. Subtle coloring and ample white space add to the book's tranquil feel. A lovely title to share one-on-one, and sure to start many family rituals.–Wendy Woodfill, Hennepin County Library, Minnetonka, MN
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Gr. 1-3. Henry sits in an armchair opposite his dad. He asks for the usual evening ritual: "Tell me about when I was small." And so the father does, in a series of wonderfully unexpected images. When the boy was small, he could walk his pet ant, sleep in his father's left slipper (with a peppermint teabag for a pillow), bathe in a teapot, or ride on the cat's back, as if "[Henry] were an emperor and [the cat] was an elephant." He could fit in his dad's shirt pocket or play the part of a knight on the chessboard. When Henry asks his father if it's all true, Dad replies, "Don't you remember?" Whimsical, crosshatched line illustrations, washed with gently shadowed colors, appear to float on white pages, pairing a single, evocative picture with each fantastical memory. Packaged without a jacket and sporting an elegant cloth spine, this looks different from most picture books on the market--and the story's delightfully sly sensibility bears out initial impressions. GraceAnne DeCandido
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Every night, we are told, Henry and his dad sit down, "and have a chat". Henry asks his dad to tell him what he was like when he was small and dad does so. The only thing is, dad seems to be a bit of a literal sort. The first thing he tells Henry is, "When you were small you used to have a pet ant and you would take him out for walks on a leash". And here we see Henry, no younger than before, but tiny enough to walk an ant as if it were a particularly frisky dog. With each page we learn more about what "little" Henry's life was like. Sometimes it's straightforward, as when we're told, "When you were small we took the toy castle out of the aquarium and you were king of it". Other times the book acquires a dry wit, saying things like, "... your mother once lost you in the bottom of her purse. When she found you again, you were clinging to an earring she'd lost three years before". We hear about how Henry would eat, use a ruler when it came to tobogganing, and take a bath. Near the end of the book Henry's father notes, "we wanted to call you Hieronymous but it was too big a name for you and so we shortened it to Henry". And when Henry asks if all of this is true (as I am sure he asks every night) his dad simply says, "Well ... don't you remember?".
With a steady hand O'Leary parcels out the information in this book in a familiar form. Each section that discusses Henry's previously tiny state begins with the repeating phrase, "When you were small". I think it was the understated humor that really won me over to this book, though. There's a wonderful moment when Henry would ride around in his father's breast pocket. "Your little head would just stick out and your little hands would grip onto the edge of the cloth. Actually you ripped a lot of my shirts that way". It's a small statement, but it makes the reader suddenly wonder if all the dad's stories were true after all. I mean, that's a pretty realistic detail to include. Illustrator Julie Morstad further confuses the issue when she displays front and endpapers that consist of Henry staring at photographs of himself in his "small" state. Some show him posing alongside an ant. Others display him floating away on a balloon or doing something as mundane as posing for Halloween. What is a child to think?
Actually, I should be giving artist Morstad some definite props for this book as well. Using the thinnest of pen lines in a wide variety of colors (subdued, for the most part) the book feels almost like a foreign import. We rarely see such delicate perfectly rendered pictures in our American bookstores and libraries. There's a picture of Henry standing astride a beautifully penned cat. Every hair of that cat is meticulously placed, making it my favorite image in, "When You Were Small". Morstad could make even Peter Sis look like a thick-penned schlub in comparison.
I should mention that the book conveys a great deal of love without artifice or false sentiment. Some of this you might be able to chalk this up to the simplicity of the book's design itself. Publication information is in tiny type at the bottom of a single page. There is no information about either the author nor illustrator nor even a dedication section. The book also hasn't any book jacket, giving it a rather classic feel. All in all, this is one of the lovelier picture book creations I've had the pleasure of reading in a long time. A quiet, intelligent, rather sweet read in a style that everyone can enjoy. Recommended with honors.
Every night young Henry asks a common kid question: "Dad...tell me about when I was small." Nearby adults generally smile at this question, because they quite reasonably interpret"small" as "young," and the child questioner is still pretty young (and small). IT becomes one of those awww-laden moments when the adults sneak little isn't-he-cute winks and glances at each other.
There will be none of this sentimentality for author Sara O'Leary though. She launches into her mildly absurd humor through the father, who regales his audience (and yours) with reverse-Paul Bunyan tales of Henry, when he was, indeed, very, very small:
"When you were small we used you as a chess piece, because our chess board was missing one of the knoghts and you were the perfect size."
Not THAT's small, so small that the expected story about Henry as a much younger child is quickly dashed. Befitting the intimate story and Henry's diminutive size, the pictures are simple and soft (with cross-hatched lines for texture), illustrating the text with a few small objects and one small Henry. For example, against a shadowed tablecloth covered with a small rubber duckie, tiny bath towel and shirt, we see Henry about to jump into a striped green teapot twice his size!
"When you were small we used to give you baths in the teapot, and when you were done we could just tip you over and pour you out." There are fourteen such vignettes, with enough variety in scene and length to maintain interest: SOme of them are simple one-liners ("When you were small we brushed your hair with a toothbrush") and others a bit more involved. ALthough the book is very funny, there's a slightly muted tone stemming form the matter-of-fact way that the dad talks to Henry. The book is so funny thatI can't guarantee it will be a good bedtime read, but there's a slightly muted tone, stemming form the matter-of-fact way the dad answers Henry, that gives the book lulling to sleep potential (especially after repeated readings take away some of the initial surprises!).
O'Leary handles the boy's question, "is all that true," quite expertly (the Dad adroitly dodges the question with his reply, "Well, don't you remember". It's just one of the many small details done just right in this small gem of a book. Highly recommended, and will go on my annual list of best pictures books I've read during the year.