My copy of STITCHES (Norton, 2009) by David Small finally arrived in the mail. I sat down with it and read it cover to cover and am still stunned by how Small conveys so much with so little. This GN memoir of his childhood has scant words and stark black and white illustrations. No matter: there is plenty of raw emotion surging from the pages.
When David was a teen he underwent surgery for a growth in his neck. Everyone around him made the procedure seem routine. It was not until after the surgery that David learned (accidentally) that the surgery was to remove cancer from his throat. Unfortunately, the surgery also took one of his vocal cords leaving him mute. Having no voice was already something with which David was familiar given the tenor of his childhood home. A cruel mother, a largely absent father, and an insane grandmother made it impossible for David to find his way except through his drawing.
David Small and his lovely wife, Sarah Stewart, were speakers at our library science book festival last year. He had just illustrated Kathi Appelt's THE UNDERNEATH and I wanted to have both of them speak. What a lovely day. I had not known that Kathi and David had not met yet (duh, you'd think I would have since I know author and illustrator do not generally collaborate), and David brought original art from the book so Kathi could select a piece for herself. We all pored over the drawings, entranced. He talked about his work in a general session that was informative and entertaining. I bought lots of books to have signed for family and friends.
But this was all before I had even heard of STITCHES. How someone can crawl out of the ashes of a childhood and become that phoenix is an amazing story, one to share with readers. While most reviews list this for upper high school, I know of plenty of younger readers who know this sort of existence. This book could be a lifeline for them, too.