I first came across Sara’s books when I took her Writing of Children’s Literature class at Concordia. That course was probably the most difficult creative writing class I ever took (with the exception maybe of scriptwriting), but it was also a lot of fun and introduced me to so many great children’s books and authors. The first few chapters of the YA novel I wrote for the course may still be languishing somewhere on my hard drive, never to see the light of day, but I have a newfound appreciation for how much thought and effort goes into writing for kids (and for books in verse that scan properly).
At the time that I took the class, Sara had just published her second picture book. Both books are centred on a little boy named Henry, who asks a lot of questions and gets a lot of inventive answers from his parents.
In When You Were Small, Henry asks his dad every night to tell him about when he was small, and Henry’s dad always has a good answer. He tells Henry that he used to have a pet ant that he would take out on walks. He used to take baths in the teapot. He used to fill in for the missing knight on the chess board when his mom and dad would play. He used to end up in all kinds of silly places.
In Where You Came From, Henry is asking questions again, but this time it’s about how his parents got him in the first place. Henry’s dad claims they found him floating down the river in the basket. Henry’s mom disagrees, saying that actually they found him in an eagle’s nest way up above the forest. Eventually, though, Henry’s dad thinks he has the real answer.
Both of these books are simple and warm and a little bit funny. The illustrations are really lovely line drawings, done by Julie Morstad. Even the endpapers are charming.
These books have a sweet, funny air of fancy and leg-pulling, that way that parents have of harmlessly making things up just to see the expression of wonder that they produce, these little things that leave small children with a sense of mystery and magic.
Sara O’Leary has recently published another book in this series, called When I Was Small (find it at the publisher’s site here). She also has a very interesting blog on children’s literature that you can find at 123oleary.blogspot.com.
-posted by Kayleigh, children’s desk staff