Saturday, November 21, 2009


I’ve long admired the children’s books illustrated by David Small.  “The Gardener,” which he illustrated and was written by his wife Sarah Stewart, is a favorite of mine.   His latest book, “Stitches,” which was a finalist for the National Book Award in the young people’s literature category is a memoir written in the form of a comic. There are many such memoirs out there, but this one blows most of the others off of the shelf.  Small’s expressive line drawings colored with simple gray washes reminded me of the work of Will Eisner (who is often credited with inventing the graphic novel) but in its emotional intensity this one has few peers.  There are many panels that have no dialog in them at all, where you scan the panels and absorb the images in much the same way you would while watching a film.  The facial expressions of the various characters are so beautifully drawn that you immediately know their state of mind.  From the puzzlement and fear of the young David, to the smoldering anger of his mother, and the wrath of his demented grandmother, the line work says it all.  This is the story of a young boy growing up in a home filled with repressed anger and loveless parents, who in order to survive escapes into books and his own fantasies.  As you witness the trials that David is forced to undergo as he grows up, the book is sometimes painful to read, but the artistry and power of the author’s words and images keep you enthralled and by the book’s moving end, you may want to start reading it all over again.

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