ONCE I WAS VERY SMALL
Volume 21 Number 5
Early childhood is a very special time in one's life. Young children marvel at themselves in a totally unconscious way while discovering the world around them. Aimed at the pre-school child, this slight book attempts to re-create that sense of wonder, but it misses the mark.
There is no continuity and no consistency in the book. It is often downright confusing. Vanessa introduces herself, saying, "Once I was very small,... Not anymore." First Vanessa shows us photographs of herself; next we see her in illustrations as a baby or pre-schooler. She goes from bed to chair to clothes to food to learning to walk, to Christmas! Is this pre-school stream-of-consciousness? All this time Vanessa is the centre of attention, but on the last page she has a friend. Where did she come from?
There are self-conscious, inappropriate, very adult-like asides in the text, for example: "The snowsuit was my favourite ... it had a life of its own."
First-time author Elizabeth Ferber is a cartoonist and greeting card designer and her art displays a certain cuteness. The illustrations are clean and bright. Carrot-topped Vanessa mugs on every page and is an adorable, but wobbly, toddler.
Ultimately, the book demonstrates no imagination, the key ingredient in a child's view of the world. The text is so pedestrian that it is hardly worth a second read. With books like Kathy Stinson's Red Is Best, which opens with "My mom doesn't understand about red", new authors have a wonderful model not to imitate but to emulate.
Once I Was Very Small is a disappointment.
Theo Hersh is a children's librarian with the Toronto Public Library in Toronto, Ontario.
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