CM . . . . Volume XV Number 21. . . .June 12, 2009.
Big or Little?
Kathy Stinson. Illustrated by Toni Goffe.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2009.
32 pp., pbk. & hc., $6.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-168-6. ISBN 978-1-55451-169-3.
Size perception-Juvenile fiction.
Maturation (Psychology)-Juvenile fiction.
Preschool-kindergarten / Ages 2-5.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
Like when I can reach
Number 7 in the elevator.
And when I pour milk on my
cereal all by myself.
But sometimes I feel little
Like when the milk spills.
Or if I wake up and my bed’s wet.
Stinson’s Big or Little? first appeared in 1983, and a sticker on the cover of this new “25 Years Edition” proclaims “25 Years” and “Newly Illustrated.” However, this Big or Little is not the modern classic picture book that so many parents and grandparents have read to their toddlers/grandchildren over the last quarter century. An accompanying “Press Release” states that “...Big or Little? is back with a revised, shorter text nicely suited for young listeners and playful new illustrations that are fun for all.”
What has remained the same in the 1983 and 2009 tellings is the story’s universal theme, one to which so many preschoolers can relate – those moments when they feel “big”or grownup and those times when circumstances make them feel “little” or babyish. The book’s original square shape has been replaced by a rectangular format which makes the new edition feel like it’s now intended for an older audience than was the original, an impression that’s reinforced by the cover illustration of a boy, now called Toby, who looks older than did 1983's Matthew. In addition to Toby’s having a little sister like Matthew, he also has an older brother, Josh. The new edition is fifty percent longer than the original, but the increase in length can be simply attributed to Goffe’s illustrations which occupy more space than had Robin Baird Lewis’s. Whereas Lewis had used a realistic illustration style, Goffe’s approach is more cartoon-like and much busier than was that of Lewis.
Specifics within the 2009 text also make Toby seem older than Matthew. Whereas Matthew felt little because “I have to sit in the chair because I forgot and rode my bike out into the street,” Toby felt big because “Yesterday I rode my bike [a tricycle] all the way to the park.” There, however, Toby concluded that he might still be little because, at the park, “I was too scared to pat the dog.” Matthew felt big because he had mastered dressing himself, an activity which included tying his shoes, zipping his jeans and buttoning his shirt; Toby feels really big because “I can read the words in some of my books” and “I can also print my name.” While Matthew’s mom “yell[ed] at me ‘cause I can’t find my other sock, again,” an act that made Matthew feel little, Toby’s mother makes Toby feel big by allowing him to help wash her car.
If Big or Little? had been a song and not a book, then the 2009 version could be considered a cover version of the original, and, in the same fashion that I prefer K.D. Lang’s version of Hallelulia over Leonard Cohen’s original (and any other cover versions), then one could just simply express a preference for the 1983 or the 2009 version. In fact, the 2009 Big or Little? is really a new work, and, while it invites comparison to the 1983 book, it needs to be judged on its own. As such, the 2009 Big or Little? works, and it merits purchase by school and public libraries. That said, those libraries that already own the 1983 version should keep it on their shelves alongside the 2009 reworking.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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