Readers of youth books will recognize his name as the winner of the Caldecott Medal (for the best illustrations in a children’s book for a given year) a few years ago for “So You Want to Be President?” by Judith St. George.
This memoir is written in “graphic novel” format, so it looks much like a comic book. Small describes a childhood where his parents kept him at a distance. His mother seemed often hostile or unhappy, with just a few windows into a different part of her life. His father was a physician who chose to keep critical information from Small when he developed cancer as an early teen. Art was Small’s escape.
As I’ve written before, memoir may be my favorite genre. There’s something compelling about reading a person’s view of how a portion of life shaped the rest of their life.
Parents often ask librarians for books for their children that tell about someone who overcame obstacles in order to be successful. Truth is, nearly every successful person overcomes obstacles. The lack of loving connections in Small’s life feels hopeless; this is not a happy book, except in the sense that we know that Small becomes a successful illustrator. Small points to a counselor who helped him to see the possibilities in his life.
In an afterward, Small writes how he learned more about his mother’s health situation that explained some of her personality. I would have liked for him to have included in the graphic format his coming to terms with learning more about her, and about how he came to terms with his father, as well. Those are brief text notes with photos at the end of the book.
This is considered an adult book, also of interest to teens.
I learned about this from Vicki Wood, the Youth Services Supervisor at Lincoln City Libraries. I would recommend this to my reader friends who also enjoy memoir, to people interested in children’s literature, and in general to people who enjoy coming-of-age stories.