|By Bill Castanier|
Children’s author, illustrator tells own dark childhood tale
David Small is an award-winning children’s book author and illustrator. But make no mistake, his latest book, “Stitches,” is not for children.
Using unparalleled, simple images to convey complex thoughts and emotions, Small pieces together the story of his strange but true childhood. Some of his images are disturbing; some can be confusing and some are laugh aloud funny, with their inordinate ability to communicate ideas from a child’s innocent perspective.
Small, 64, grew up in Detroit, the son of a radiologist father and a brooding stay-at-home mother. An older brother was often his nemesis. Small’s home was defined by silence. There was little talk. His life teetered on madness. By 16, he was living on his own in Detroit’s Cass Corridor.
“My parent’s never spoke about anything, ” he said. Small has been at this anguished, redemptive memoir for some time, first starting it as a short story about 10 years ago, then trying it in novel form. About five years ago he became intensely involved in turning it into a graphic novel. “Drawing [‘Stitches’] opened all the doors,” he said. “My memory, it was pretty cloudy. I was lost in a dark forest.
It was a silent, sullen, childhood filled with anguish and confusion. Small, in addition to his self- imposed silence, found himself as a young teenager with one severed vocal chord following surgery for a cancerous growth.
One night, he and his wife were out to dinner when, he said, “I was so creeped out about my mother, I could feel my neck (where his growth had been) swelling up. I thought it was a hallucination.”
Small said he poured out memories in no chronological order. Ultimately, there were 12 versions of the book.
In conversation, Small makes it clear that he wasn’t tortured or thrown out of a window when he was a child. His torture was more psychological, coming from a depressed mother and a distant father.
“When he answered he said, ‘David, this book blows me away. It is a snapshot of my youth.’”
Small said his brother then asked if he could show it to his therapist.
“I learned what he went through was worse than I ever did,” Small said. “He still finds it hard to talk about.”
‘Stitches’ By David Small 320 pages, W.W. Norton & Co.