Occasionally I devote a whole blog post to a book that makes my heart sing. Well folks, I think this one is going to wow you as well. A story inspired by the autobiographical writing of artist Emily Carr, When Emily was Small, by Lauren Soloy is the debut picture book from a Nova Scotia writer & illustrator that you need to keep your eye on. Published by Tundra Books, it is a real feat of bookmaking. Tundra is known for gorgeous books, and this one is no exception. As one might expect, a book about an artist is in itself an artistic endeavour.
Start by looking at that cover, with small Emily running into the story. Where is she going? We want to open the book and find out. You open to a lush garden on the end pages. And when you take the dust jacket off, you see a scene of young Emily howling with the Wild. Start on those end pages to look for smiling bees and you’ll begin to notice little bits of happy nature throughout the book.
The book is printed on thick paper, with sweet-smelling ink (I love that new book smell). This is certainly one that will hold up to close scrutiny using the Whole Book Approach.
I love the little spot illustrations that appear throughout, drawing our eye to the tiny details and reminding the reader to look closely, to observe nature the way little Emily does. And so here’s the story: Emily, who calls herself Small, runs out into the garden to lose herself in the tangle of shrubs and leaves. She goes out to look at the secrets hiding in the green land of her imagination, and meets up with the Wild, who helps her find even more to love in nature. Soloy shows the exploration of a child’s love for dreaming as a lush landscape of green, and then a jaunt into the sky in paintings that remind us of Carr’s work.
Emily is forced to return to reality, and back to the rigid world of her mother’s strict rules, but she keeps that bit of wildness in her mind. The reader has hope that Emily will keep marching to the beat of her own individual heart, with a Thumpety-Bumpety-Thumepty-Bump. The page turns and pacing are expertly crafted to keep the book moving, but there are also a few places where the reader is encouraged, by the dense green spreads, to pause and take a breath. To stop and look at the many kinds of green, the beauty of nature. And to let their own hearts go bump.
Buy this book for your libraries, for your artist friends, for a child who has a big imagination. It is a real beauty of a book, made with attention to detail and child-appeal.