Every night young Henry prompts his father: “Tell me about when I was small.” From there the magic and delight ensue. Henry hears of the pet ant he used to walk on a leash, bath times in the teapot, his shifting role as chessboard knight to king of the aquarium castle, and so much more. Each page is filled with fun and wonderment that opens the imagination to explore just how small is ‘small’.
I first came across When You Were Small in 2007 when I was doing a study on ‘truth-telling’ in children’s literature. I went into my local children’s bookstore and asked the bookseller if she could recommend anything that would add to my study. Right away she walked over to the shelf, picked up a copy of When You Were Small, and said: “This might interest you.”
At first glance I thought I was handed a ‘vintage’ title, something circa Pat the Bunny (1940). Yet the delightful classic-looking pen and ink sketches were done by Vancouver-based artist, Julie Morstad, and the book was relatively recent, released in January 2006. (Sara O’Leary and Julie Morstad have since worked on a number of titles together).
The bookseller was right. When You Were Small was particularly relevant to my study. After hearing about when he was little, about how he used to sleep in a slipper and so on, Henry questions his father: “Dad, is all that true?” To which his father responds: “Well… don’t you remember?” Oooh! I just love it! I’m a sucker for stories that so effectively blend the realms of reality and imagination, and that so brilliantly incorporate (or call into question!) memory. That one closing question, and all the open-ended possibilities it provides, leaves the reader/listener in sheer wonder.
Far beyond my initial academic approach, this book has woven its way into my family. My children, now five and eight, appreciate it as much as I do and often ask for it. After each reading we are drawn into our own stories of “When you were small…” telling tales of both real-to-life memories and fantastical fictions. We reminisce, we make-believe, and we laugh. So perfect!
I absolutely adore this picture book and I recommend it as a must-have.
Happy 10th birthday, When You Were Small!
Reviewed by K.C. Darling
(review copy personally purchased).