What David Small Is Up to in 2010

h1 July 6th, 2010 by jules

“How Elsie loved that hound from the first moment it greeted her, jumping up and licking her face and then arooooing in her ear. She sang back to it, a childhood favorite, ‘With a bow-wow here, a bow-wow there . . .’ And Timmy Tune sang along. That hound, those hens, that banty rooster, and all the noise they made kept Elsie’s house full of sound, and Elsie loved them all for they turned her house into
a true prairie home.”

If you’re a fan of author/illustrator David Small’s work, then you’re having a good year. I decided to check in with him this morning to see what he’s been up to in 2010, and the answer to that would be two really great illustrated titles — Elsie’s Bird (Philomel), written by Jane Yolen (an illustration from that is pictured above) and to be released this Fall, and Naomi Howland’s Princess Says Goodnight (HarperCollins), released in May. David is stopping by to share some art and sketches from these titles. Let’s start with Naomi’s title, since it was released earlier this year.

“Sweet and disarmingly infectious without being cloying, this is a bedtime story full of joy and imagination,” writes Publishers Weekly about the rhyming Princess Says Goodnight. Howland lays out this story of an imaginative girl’s bedtime with a series of questions. (“At the palace in the nighttime, when Princess leaves the ball, is she practicing her curtsies while dancing down the hall?”) Even before the title page, we see a contemporary family ready to retire for the evening. Once the youngest child of the family, a curly-haired red-headed wee girl, sees herself in a hallway mirror, her rampant imagination transforms her into a princess. Her family suddenly becomes her royal court, ready to serve on her way from her imagined ball to her princess-bed. And everything in her home, once ordinary, becomes stately, royal, and fit-only-for-a-princess. (Note the swan-shaped bathtub below!)

David’s palette is particularly colorful in this title: “Is her favorite color for all her royal clothes,” Naomi writes, “every pretty shade of pink—mauve and peach and rose?” Fortunately, I’ve got some spreads to show you so that his art can speak for itself. David also shares some early roughs from the book, as well as a picture of his and his wife’s “li’l princess, granddaughter Lily.”

Below are the spreads, as well as the aforementioned early roughs…

“Will she hold a candelabra while climbing up the stairs…”

“…and have a frothy glass of milk with chocolate cream éclairs?”

“Does she look out from her tower just to count up all her sheep?
Will she make a wish upon a star before she goes to sleep?”

(Early sketch; click to enlarge.)

“When Princess takes a bubble bath, what do you suppose?
She has a special fluffy towel for each one of her toes.”

(Early sketch; click to enlarge.)

“Does she brush her hair and floss her teeth, and then climb into bed…”

“…and give her little froggy, Prince, a kiss upon the head?”

(Early sketch; click to enlarge.)

(Early sketch; click to enlarge.)

(Early sketch; click to enlarge.)

(Early sketch; click to enlarge.)

(Early sketch; click to enlarge.)

* * * * * * *

Now, the second title…

Betsy Bird recently reviewed Jane Yolen’s and David’s Elsie’s Bird, describing it as “a love song to the country,” adding:

“It’s much harder to give that landscape the right feel and love in a picture book setting, yet somehow Yolen and Small have managed it together. Between the storyline and characters and Small’s captivating watercolors trapped within thick black pastels, Nebraska has never been so loved. City kids will marvel as I once did at the notion of losing yourself in a vegetation usually cropped and pruned into respectable lawns. Country kids will find a soulmate in a girl so in love with a bird that she casts herself in harm’s way to aid him. And parents will be equally entranced by Yolen’s wordplay and Small’s inventiveness. Quiet. Contained. Original. A keeper.”

Elsie’s Bird tells the story of a young Boston girl, one in love with the sounds of the city, who moves with her father to the Nebraska prairie after her mother’s death. Pictured here first are some images from David, “my land,” he told me, “my wife’s restoration of the tall grass prairie which used to end here, on this acreage, on the St. Joseph River. My inspiration for Elsie’s story.”

Elsie’s life in her new home is one of despondence (“Here there is only grass and sky and silence”), and the story tells of her transformation to a place of acceptance, brought about by the inadvertent release of her pet canary, Timmy Tune, from his cage. Here are some luminous spreads from the title, which speak for themselves and tell you much more about this beautiful, poignant story Yolen has penned. If you click on each of these spreads, you can see them without text, David’s art larger and in much more detail. I thank David for stopping by. Enjoy…

“Elsie was a Boston girl. Form the time she was a little child, hair in pigtails, she knew the cozy harbor where gulls screamed at fishing boats,
where the fish merchants called, ‘Fresh cod, fresh!'”

“When they got to Nebraska, to the plot of land Papa had bought, there was only a house built in the ground. Its roof was made of sod, and grass grew around the chimney. Elsie wrote a letter home to Nana and Nonny. ‘Here there is only grass and sky and silence.’ The only sound at night was her own crying in her little bed,
but she didn’t let Papa know.”

“Sure, there was sound in Nebraska—wind through the grass during the day, crickets and grasshoppers at night. But Elsie couldn’t hear it. And when it rained that hard rain, she huddled, not listening, in the cool dark of the sod house,
dreaming of Boston cobbles and bells.”

“Only one Friday—when Papa had gone off again, buying seed corn for the coming spring—Elsie accidentally left the cage door open. Timmy flew right out, winging through an open window. Elsie grabbed up the cage and without thinking, ran outside after him. ‘Timmy!’ she cried, and whistled. ‘Timmy,’ she called, to coax him back. She ran across the farmyard, and into the tall prairie grass, crying the canary’s name. ‘Timmy,’ she sobbed. ‘Timmy.’ Until all that could be seen of her was
the hand holding the cage up above the high grass.”

“Suddenly, they both heard a raspy koo-a-lee koo-a-lee. A blackbird flew over to them and sang again. ‘Koo-a-lee,’ Elsie sang back. ‘Koo-a-lee.’ And then, oh then—sitting there by the burbling creek, in the green-gold grass, under the sun-washed sky, Elsie finally heard the voices of the plains. She heard the wind rippling the grass. She heard long vees of geese spinning out cries like thread; the creaking call of sandhill cranes; the bubbly larkspur far out over the tall stalks. She clapped her hands and sang back to them, too, skip-rope songs and sea shanties and hymns from her Boston church. And Timmy Tune sang along with her.”

* * * * * * *

PRINCESS SAYS GOODNIGHT. Copyright © 2010 by Naomi Howland. Illustration copyright © 2010 David Small. Published by HarperCollins, New York, NY.

ELSIE’S BIRD. Copyright © 2010 by Jane Yolen. Illustration copyright © 2010 David Small. Published by Philomel Books, New York, NY.

All other photos and sketches used with permission of David Small.

7 comments to “What David Small Is Up to in 2010”

  1. Thank you, Jules, for sharing the early sketches, finished art, photographs, and inspiration behind both these books. I’m a big fan of David Small, ever since I discovered Imogene’s Antlers, one of my — and my children’s — favorite books ever.

  2. Especially love those early sketches!

  3. Thanks, as always, for spreading the word about wonderful picture books. My daughter doesn’t even know what a debt she owes you (well, and so do I, because who else has to read these texts millions of times over?!). I so enjoy David Small, whom I first about on this site when you discussed his memoir Stitches. Then, of course, I discovered the children’s books, most especially Imogen’s Antlers, which is about as perfect a book as ever existed.

  4. I had never heard of David Small before, but his illustrations are just lovely. I’m going to have to buy some of his books for when I have children.

  5. I’m really looking forward to Elsie’s Bird. This was a great post. I especially enjoyed seeing the progress sketches.

  6. I was delighted when I heard that David was to be the illustrator of ELSIE’S BIRD. Long wanted to work with him. He has brought his particular genius to my little story and for that I am eternally thankful.And grateful.

    He more than deserved his Caldecott Medal back a few years ago. And his National Book Award nomination for STITCHES. May he have continued success.


  7. Just read the graphic novel “Stitches.” I could not put it down. It certainly caught my interest from the beginning illustration of Detroit, my old home town. I may have grown up in the same neighborhood as David Small. He refers to Pinehurst Street, which was one street over from my house. The portrayal of the mean mother and crazy grandmother were totally convincing and scary. Loved the artwork and the positive message of triumph over extreme adversity. A metaphor for the city of Detroit? That’s probably a bit much, but I definitely loved the book.
    David Garelick, Santa Rosa, California

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