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David Small was only 2 years old when he began drawing. Even then, everyone around him knew he would be an artist.Mr. Small was born February 12, 1945, in Detroit, Michigan. He spent summers in rural Indiana, which would later influence his drawings of the outdoors. Shy and sickly as a child, he spent a lot of time playing alone and drawing. Later he would gravitate to the written word, making up his own stories.
In college, Mr. Small originally studied literature with the intent to become a playwright. He later switched to art when a friend suggested his doodling was better than his playwriting. Said Mr. Small: "I found a real home in the Art Department…I felt that I had been suddenly washed ashore in a country where people spoke my own language. I felt alive. I grew stronger. I knew that in this world of art I could find a place." (Something About the Author, Vol. 126, p. 202) He earned a bachelor of fine arts degree at Wayne State University in Detroit and a master of fine arts degree at Yale University.
He became an assistant professor and taught drawing and printmaking. He also created editorial cartoons for publications such as the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. In the 1980s, he lost his teaching job due to cutbacks. It was then that he committed himself to combining his loves of writing and art. His background and experience led him quite naturally to creating picture books.
His books reflect the concerns he had as a child: of being different, an outsider. "I think of my books as a kind of dog whistle pitched high above normal human hearing," says Small, "sending their signal of acceptance to the strange ones out there, telling them to hold on." (Children's Literature Review, Vol. 53, p. 147)
Some of the influences on his art include the art lessons he took as a child, museum visits with his parents, the murals of Diego Rivera, and his summers in Indiana. He works with watercolor, pen and ink, and pastel.
Besides illustrating his own and other authors' books, Mr. Small has also illustrated books by his wife, Sarah Stewart. "Some of my best books were written by Sarah," says Small. "It is never easy, but it is frequently a lot of fun and entirely worth the effort." (NCCIL Exhibit Packet)
Mr. Small's work has earned him much critical acclaim and many awards, the most notable being the 2001 Caldecott Medal for his illustrations in So You Want to Be President?. He also earned a 1998 Caldecott Honor for The Library, written by Ms. Stewart.
Mr. Small and Ms. Stewart currently live in Mendon, Michigan, in a house that is on the National Register of Historic Places.
So You Want to Be President?
On making money: "If an artist is concerned with making money, his or her worries will be about money. An artist should worry only about making better art. If the art is good, the money will come." (NCCIL Exhibit Packet)
On art as self-expression: "Art and music are the things which speak to the human soul." (Horn Book Magazine, July/August 2001)
On winning the Caldecott Medal: "I can't imagine being 23 instead of 56 and having all this attention suddenly turned on me for something I had done at a time before I knew what my style was." (Reading Teacher, December 2001/January 2002)
On his desire to better his art: "I think the mature decision is to concentrate on what I do best and stop trying to force something that is hard." (Reading Teacher, December 2001/January 2002)
All books are illustrated and/or written by David Small, unless otherwise noted.
Margolis, Rick. "Hail to the Chief: A Children's Book Casts a Droll Eye on the Presidency." School Library Journal, November 2000, pp. 43-45.
Caldecott Medal Acceptance Speech. Horn Book Magazine, July/August 2001, pp. 411-419.
Giorgis, Cyndi and Nancy J. Johnson. "2001 Caldecott Medal Winner: A Glimpse Into the Art of David Small." Reading Teacher, December 2001/January 2002, pp. 386-390.return to top
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