Ever curious Henry, whose enquiries about the recent past formed the basis of Sara O’Leary and Julie Morstad’s previous collaborations, When You Were Small and Where You Came From, has another question for his mother, this time asking her for a story about when she was small. Henry’s mother answers with a series of very short, beautifully bizarre anecdotes delivered at the pace of one per page.
The book takes the idea of Henry’s mother being “small” literally – she is pictured skipping rope with a ball of yarn, swimming in a birdbath, and standing on a spool of thread. The dreamy quality of both text and image gives the book a slightly low-energy feel, but it may be the perfect thing for a kid who is just a little quiet, a little shy, but still inquisitive – a child not unlike Henry. The result is a perfect antidote for parents whose retinas have been scorched by too much Dora the Explorer.
Small visual details, such as the frequent hand-lettering and the spot illustrations, add to the book’s quiet impact. The framing of the narrative, with Henry’s question at the beginning and his mother’s comments at the end, gives kids something concrete to hang onto throughout.
When I Was Small is not only a charming picture book, but by focusing on the parent’s past instead of the child’s, it also has the potential to be a great conversation starter.