April 04, 2012

When I Was Small

Written by Sara O'Leary
Illustrated by Julie Morstad
Simply Read Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-8

My photo of When I Was Small does not do justice to the pervasive delicacy of Sara O'Leary's book.  Holding the cloth-spined hardcover book with its unadorned font and images, the reader will feel whisked away to the simpler time of childhood.  No matter whether the reader is eight or fifty years of age, When I Was Small will embrace the wonder of being little and the unconditional affection of a parent.

Henry's curiosity about his parents' childhoods is satisfied with his mother's "recollections" of being younger.  She shares with him a wealth of reminiscences: having a lady bug as a friend; wearing the same size shoes as her doll; playing jump rope with a piece of yarn.  But her accounts become fantastical experiences in Julie Morstad's pen and ink drawings depicting the mother when she was small. Not just small as in young but literally small à la Thumbellina.  Innocent observations of a mother, speaking to her young son, loving in her affection for her child and in her long-gone youth, are transformed into delightful intimacies for both mother and son.  Sara O'Leary is frugal with her words, binding the experiences to youth, still many years away from the weight of adult words and worries.  Likewise, Julie Morstad uses watercolours sparingly to enhance her ink illustrations but perfectly to capture the brightness of youth with the washed-out tones of another time.

Anyone who argues that the book in any form other than electronic is becoming obsolete needs to bring a copy of When I Was Small into their life.  The sheer pleasure of holding a story that is as delightful in its jacket as it is in its heart is very rare today and should be cherished.  Sara O'Leary's When I Was Small is just such a singular luxury.

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