When Emily Was Small by Lauren Soloy

Review by Logaine Navascués        

Tundra Books, Penguin Random House, 19 May 2020

40 pages, hardcover, $21.99 CAD, 978-0-73526-606-3

Ages 4-8, Grades Pre K-3

Picture Book, Fiction, Science/Nature

When young Emily Carr goes into the garden, she cannot help but feel tuned in to its natural rhythms. The reader follows the thumpety-bumpety of Emily’s heart and discovers the girl’s way of seeing and her connection to the Wild. In the garden, Emily doesn’t feel small like she does around her parents, who are always telling her what to do, but rather empowered. She becomes Small and immediately grows free, assuming a new name that, paradoxically, enables her to be bigger than she knows, as Wild tells her: endless as nature itself, “suspended in the center of it all, like seeds in a currant.”

Lauren Soloy’s poetic and sensorial text is rich in playful onomatopoeia and euphonious sentences that bring this garden to life, enabling the reader to hear its sounds and surrender to its call. Abstract ideas and feelings are explained through verbal and visual metaphors, exuberantly depicted in shades of green and earthy tones. Love of nature is at the core of this picture book and the main character: it’s a way of life, inspiration for art, and a spiritual experience. Soloy’s references to Emily Carr are well-constructed, as one can immediately imagine this little girl’s passionate relationship to the forest as the artist’s inspiration for her unique paintings. The final note tells more about Carr’s autobiographical writing, citing the story “White Currants” from The Book of Small as the inspiration behind this picture book.

Although profound and symbolic, Soloy’s writing is also tender and naïve, showing us the world from the little girl’s perspective. Emily’s pointy black hair and exaggerated facial expressions evoke a sense of mischievousness. This added to the rhythm and rhyme of Soloy’s melodic prose make it a fun and inviting read-aloud for children—and adults—of all ages.

Logaine Navascués is a Peruvian artist, writer, creative director, teacher and book maker, currently living in Vancouver. She is the proud mother of a beautiful daughter and two artist’s books. You can find her reading, collecting picturebooks and eating chocolate while pursuing her MA in Children’s Literature at UBC.

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