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It's a David Small World: The Artwork of Caldecott Medal Winner David Small
November 19, 2002 – January 22, 2003
Collins Gallery, Central Library

David Small drawing of a girl pulling a wagon while reading, 1995, The Library, Farrar, Straus & Giroux.  Used by permission of David Small.


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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.

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So You Want to Be President?
In this book, Mr. Small combines his skills as an editorial artist and a children's book illustrator. He has said he wanted to portray the presidents as real people "to help people see these men as what every president has proven himself to be-a fallible human being."

  • Before reading, have students discuss what kind of people they think presidents are. After sharing the book, discuss some of the interesting facts they learned from the text and pictures. Do these interesting facts change the way they think about the presidents?
  • If you were president, how do you think David Small would draw you? Have students draw pictures of themselves as presidents that reveal something interesting about who they are or what they like to do.

The Journey
Hannah, an Amish girl, makes her first trip to the big city. Mr. Small contrasts scenes from the girl's trip with scenes she recalls back home.

  • Through drawings or discussion, ask students to contrast scenes at school versus home. For example, how is lunchtime at school different from a meal at home? How is it the same?
  • Discuss the simplicity of the Amish lifestyle. Have students write and illustrate how they would do their chores or conduct a typical day in the Amish way. How would their lifestyles be different?

The Gardener
A young girl brings a suitcase full of seeds to the city, where she goes to stay with her uncle. There she initiates a gradual transformation, bit by bit brightening the shop and bringing smiles to customers' faces with the flowers she grows.

  • Designate a corner or wall of the classroom to be a garden. Have students fill the space by creating flowers out of collage, paints, tissue paper, etc. Discuss and present examples of flowers in art, such as those by Monet, Georgia O'Keefe, etc.

The Library
Book-lover Elizabeth Brown, whose constant reading keeps her from playing with dolls or doing just about anything else, finds her house so full of books that she has to start her own public library. Author Sarah Stewart wanted the pictures for this story to look cozy, like a library. Mr. Small accomplished this by drawing frames around his pictures.

  • How does a frame change the way a picture looks? Have kids bring in pictures from home or provide them with magazine pictures. Then design and draw different frames and place them over the same picture. Does the frame change the look or feel of the picture? Which frame works best?
  • Look at a variety of other picture books. Which ones make use of frames or borders? Why do you think the artists chose to use that technique?

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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)

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All books are illustrated and/or written by David Small, unless otherwise noted.

So You Want to Be an Inventor? Written by Judith St. George

The Journey Written by Sarah Stewart
Company's Going Written by Arthur Yorinks
Eulalie and the Hopping Head
The Mouse and His Child Written by Russell Hoban

So You Want to Be President? Written by Judith St. George
Company's Coming Written by Arthur Yorinks (Reissue of a book published in 1988.)

The Huckabuck Family: and How They Raised Popcorn in Nebraska and Quit and Came Back Written by Carl Sandburg

The Chrismas Crocodile Written by Bonnie Becker
As Silly as Knees, as Busy as Bees: An Astounding Assortment of Similes (A paperback reissue of As, A Surfeit of Similies) Written by Norton Juster

The Gardener Written by Sarah Stewart

Fenwick's Suit

The Library Written by Sarah Stewart

George Washington's Cows

Petey's Bedtime Story Written by Beverly Cleary

Fighting Words Written by Eve Merriam (out of print)

The Money Tree Written by Sarah Stewart

Box & Cox Written by Grace Chetwin (out of print)

As, A Surfeit of Similes Written by Norton Juster (out of print)
American Politics Written by Milton Meltzer

Company's Coming Written by Arthur Yorinks

Paper John

What Did You Put in Your Pocket? Written by Beatrice Schenck de Regniers

The Christmas Box Written by Eve Merriam (out of print)
Imogene's Antlers

Anna and the Seven Swans Written by Maida Silverman (out of print)

Gulliver's Travels Written by Jonathan Swift (out of print)

Eulalie and the Hopping Head

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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.

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Last updated: Thursday, October 24, 2002