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When I Was Small
by Sara O'Leary
Illustrated by Julie Morstad
AGES: 4 to 8
SIZE: 7" x 10"
PRICES: $16.95 US | $18.95 Can
HARDCOVER: 978-1-897476-38-3


When I Was Small is an adorable sequel to ‘When We Were Small’ and ‘Where You Came From’ and just as beautifully executed by Sara O’Leary and Julie Morstad.

A highly collectible set of hardback books, fabric-bound with the most wonderfully unfurling tales supported by a plethora of beautifully understated illustrations.


Curious Henry has yet another question for his mother to which O’Leary’s delicate and poetic text, provides beautiful answers with a touch of charming humour.

Henry’s mother proceeds to describe her adventures when she was small, VERY small.

Feasting on a raspberry and swimming in a birdbath, are just a few of the delightul answers she delivers to little Henry.


This endearing story is one which children will enjoy and one that will resonate with parents everywhere.

The perfect book for parents who will undoubtedly be required to answer similar questions over the course of time.

Reminiscent of a beautiful vintage book, Julie Morstad’s timeless pen and ink illustrations with splashes of watercolour, provide a crisp, clean finish to accompany a heartfelt text.


The illustrations and text float effortlessly upon large white spaces, giving a distinct feeling of how small Dorothea actually is.

This long-term pairing of O’Leary and Morstad has been a touch of genius and clearly a winning combination, one which we hope continues well into the future.


Foreword Magazine, Recommended Picture books: The power of storytelling is the subject here, as a mother answers her son’s question, “What was it like when you were small?” This gentle bedtime story with delicate drawings is spellbinding: “When I was small . . . my best friend was a ladybug . . . I went swimming in the birdbath . . . the cat once mistook me for one of her kittens.” Ages four to eight. (September 2012)  - 


Booklist - "Feeling dwarfed in a towering adult world is something all young children can relate to, and in this title, a small boy asks his mother to tell him about when she was small, too. She remembers when even her name, Dorothea, was too big for her. Her family called her Dot, and accompanying pictures show that she felt like a tiny little spot—in her class photo; sleeping in a mitten; with her best friend, a ladybug. The climax shows her now, with a small child of her own, tucking him into bed, and on the last page, she tells her son, “In stories we can be small together.” On each spread, the spare free-verse lines appear opposite the warm ink-and-watercolor cross-hatched illustrations of imaginative play, and kids will appreciate the theme of an adult brought down to size. A great companion to the family photo album." — Hazel Rochman


When I Was Small, Publisher's Weekly
Sara O'Leary, illus. by Julie Morstad. Simply Read (Ingram, dist.), $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-897476-38-3

Description: http://www.publishersweekly.com/images/cached/INGRAM/978/189/747/9781897476383.jpgIn earlier offerings by this team, When You Were Small and Where You Came From, Henry's parents told their son about life when he was "literally" small, walking his pet ant and sleeping in his father's slipper (this duo has Marcel the Shell beat by several years). "Tell me about when you were small, too," Henry now asks his mother. "When I was small," she begins, "my name was Dorothea. But because the name was too big for me, everyone called me Dot." Twentysome solemn primary-school students appear opposite in a class photo; one is a girl in a red dress no bigger than a potted plant. Readers might miss the tiny figure, but they'll catch on within pages: "I went swimming in the birdbath," Henry's mother continues. "I played jump rope with a piece of yarn." The humor in Morstad's pen-and-ink drawings lies in their seriousness; she draws the cocktail umbrella Henry's mother stands under and the mitten she sleeps in with the care of a botanical illustrator. "Adorable" is a word to be used advisedly, but it's applicable in this case. Ages 4–8. (Sept.) 



CCBC 2012 Pick, Best Books for Kids and Teens!

CanLit for Little Canadians:

My photo of When I Was Small does not do justice to the pervasive delicacy of Sara O'Leary's book. Holding the cloth-spined hardcover book with its unadorned font and images, the reader will feel whisked away to the simpler time of childhood.  No matter whether the reader is eight or fifty years of age, When I Was Small will embrace the wonder of being little and the unconditional affection of a parent.

 Henry's curiosity about his parents' childhoods is satisfied with his mother's "recollections" of being younger.  She shares with him a wealth of reminiscences: having a lady bug as a friend; wearing the same size shoes as her doll; playing jump rope with a piece of yarn.  But her accounts become fantastical experiences in Julie Morstad's pen and ink drawings depicting the mother when she was small. Not just small as in young but literally small à la Thumbellina.  Innocent observations of a mother, speaking to her young son, loving in her affection for her child and in her long-gone youth, are transformed into delightful intimacies for both mother and son.  Sara O'Leary is frugal with her words, binding the experiences to youth, still many years away from the weight of adult words and worries.  Likewise, Jule Morstad uses watercolours sparingly to enhance her ink illustrations but perfectly to capture the brightness of youth with the washed-out tones of another time.

 Anyone who argues that the book in any form other than electronic is becoming obsolete needs to bring a copy of When I Was Small into their life.  The sheer pleasure of holding a story that is as delightful in its jacket as it is in its heart is very rare today and should be cherished.  Sara O'Leary's When I Was Small is just such a singular luxury.


The Toronto Star:

There are lots of picture books on the theme of "what it was like when you were small, but in this case the mother jumps us into a world of delightful exaggeration. "When I was small," she tells little Henry, "my doll and I wore the same size shoes... I went swimming in the birdbath... I slept in a mitten..." Morstad's fine, delicate drawings enhance this Thumbelina-like fantasy, which plays with the relationship between youth and stature. Morstad's tiny girl with big eyes and bobbed hair evokes a young miss of the 1920s - very stylish.


Quill and Quire Review:

Ever curious Henry, whose enquiries about the recent past formed the basis of Sara O’Leary and Julie Morstad’s previous collaborations, When You Were Small and Where You Came From, has another question for his mother, this time asking her for a story about when she was small. Henry’s mother answers with a series of very short, beautifully bizarre anecdotes delivered at the pace of one per page.


The book takes the idea of Henry’s mother being “small” literally – she is pictured skipping rope with a ball of yarn, swimming in a birdbath, and standing on a spool of thread. The dreamy quality of both text and image gives the book a slightly low-energy feel, but it may be the perfect thing for a kid who is just a little quiet, a little shy, but still inquisitive – a child not unlike Henry. The result is a perfect antidote for parents whose retinas have been scorched by too much Dora the Explorer.


Small visual details, such as the frequent hand-lettering and the spot illustrations, add to the book’s quiet impact. The framing of the narrative, with Henry’s question at the beginning and his mother’s comments at the end, gives kids something concrete to hang onto throughout.


When I Was Small is not only a charming picture book, but by focusing on the parent’s past instead of the child’s, it also has the potential to be a great conversation starter.


Calgary Herald 


Children, (at least my children, ages five and eight), will take great delight in this
charming little book. The simple, 1950s-style illustrations add to the quirky story that
a mother tells her child about when she was, literally, "small." It's fun to see the
scenarios she paints about a little girl who wore a daisy for a sun hat, feasted on a
single raspberry, lived in a dollhouse and had a ladybug for a best friend.

Montreal Gazette, When I Was Small, by Montreal’s Sara O’Leary (Simply Read Books, 32 pages, $18.95), has nothing to do with letters or books – unless you count the opening page, in which Henry is looking through a photo album, wishing he’d known his parents when they were small. “Tell me a story, he begs his mother. Tell me a story about when you were small, too.” And she does. “When I was small ... my name was Dorothea,” she says. “But because the name was too big for me, everyone called me Dot.” And so it starts, a story that grows progressively more whimsical – and owes a lot of its warmth and whimsy to the wonderful, quirky, scratchy pen-and-ink art of Vancouver’s Julie Morstad. The image accompanying that opening statement by Henry’s mom, for example, shows a class photo that includes a teeny, tiny girl dressed in red. Dot. “When I was small,” she tells Henry as she tucks him into bed for the night, “I couldn’t wait to grow up. Because I knew one day I would have a small boy of my own.” A beautiful book, and perfect companion to Where You Came From (2008) and When You Were Small (2006) by the same author/illustrator team. For ages 3 to 8.

CM Magazine Review:

When I Was Small, the latest title in Sara O'Leary and Julie Morstad's series of picture books about inquisitive Henry and his playful parents and their recollections from the past, follows the same format as When You Were Small and Where You Came From. Like its predecessors, this latest book stands alone and can be read in isolation, or in conjunction with the other titles. In When I Was Small, Henry asks his mother to tell him about when she was small. Those who are familiar with the series will know that what follows is a range of wildly creative and humorous episodes from Henry's mother's life (or, more to the point, from her imagination).

internal art      When I Was Small has the same somewhat "old-fashioned," charming design and presentation as its predecessors, including the same sturdy binding, solid hard cover, and thick, durable paper. There is also the same clever simplicity of the text and the illustrations that, in many ways, make an older reader yearn-just as does Henry-for the way things used to be.

      The phrase, "says his mother," is used 12 times in the book. This is obviously a deliberate part of the patterning and predictability of the author's text, but I confess that I found it grating and would have preferred more variety. Other than that personal preference, however, there is little about which to complain.

      The whimsical text and illustrations are in harmony one with the other. Indeed, Morstad's creative illustrations add interesting details that extend the text in a pleasing manner. For instance, when O'Leary writes of having lived in a doll's house, Morstad's artwork includes one bed with a frame made of clothes pegs and another bed frame constructed from pencils. With both text and artwork, the presentation is uncluttered and, with lots of white space, the book is easy on the eye.

      I expect that this book is more likely to initially catch the eye of a parent than a child, but children will enjoy it once it is shared with them. When I Was Small is a particularly nice book over which mothers and sons can bond. Those who purchase a copy of this book will be well pleased and will enjoy returning to it for many years.


Resource Links, When I Was Small

Henry’s mother recreates her story as a small child, literally speaking, combining characters and scenes from well-know fairy tales. His mother compares herself to Thumbelina, the size of a small doll, swimming in a birdbath, playing jump rope with yarn, using her mitten as a sleeping bag, wearing daisies as hats and speaking of a lady bug as her best friend. Furthermore, as Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Henry’s mother tries various miniature beds in her doll-house that she literally fits within.

The author, Sara O’Leary beautifully demonstrates the connection and the curiosity between a son (child) and his mother. The imaginative fairytale twists when the mother retells her life experiences as a small child to her own small child “...in stories we can be small together” is poignant and enchanting. A definite bedtime book.

The story is brought to life by Julie Morstad’s delicately intrinsic line drawings of adorable characters with splashes of color that are appropriately filled. Beautifully designed with a purposeful accent of nostalgia. When I Was Small would definitely make a classic addition to any small child’s library.

Thematic links: Children, Parents


Review from AmoXcalli

It is books like this one that reminds me of why I adore picture books and love to review them.  There is something about children’s literature that just oozes joy and wonder when a book is done well. Simple illustrations and spare but eloquent writing can convey so much. WHEN I WAS SMALL does this beautifully.

The story begins with Henry, an adorable little boy that looks remarkably like my grandson Aiden (which instantly made me love him) asking his mother to tell him a story about when she was small. What follows is a charming and fanciful story about a very tiny, Thumbelina-sized tiny girl.

The language is simple and concise, letting the ethereal and powerful illustrations do most of the telling. The illustrations, done in pen and ink have this Old World feel to them and makes me think I’d stumbled across the book in a used book store. It’s got this vintage look and feel and has a dreamlike quality.

Each page is such a pleasure to read and look at. The reader is tempted to linger and examine the drawings. When I read it to Aiden and his sister Jasmine, they both asked me to read it again and again. Jasmine really loved a drawing of Henry’s very tiny mother feasting on a very large raspberry, while Aiden loved the illustration of her being borne away in the mouth of a cat.

Both children and parents will love this book. It is simply enchanting and a strong message about the power of story.


Review from Waking Brain Cells-

Henry asks his parents what they were like when they were small.  The book starts out normally enough with his mother explaining that she was called Dot because her full name, Dorothea, was too big for her.  But then things get creative!  Dot was so small she wore the same shoes as her doll.  She swam in the birdbath.  She jumped rope with a piece of yarn.  Her bed was a mitten.  Her father built her a doll house, and she lived in it.  At the end of this story from his mother, the two of them agree that one of the reasons that his mother looked forward to growing up was to share stories with a child of her own. 

O’Leary writes with a quiet joy that infuses the entire book.  There is a gentle playfulness throughout and children will immediately know that this is a story being told and not the truth.  Morstad’s illustrations have a delicacy to them that works particularly well with the more tall tale parts of the story.  The illustrations have a sweetness to them that make me think of the old Golden Books.  They are never saccharine thanks to their whimsy.

This is the third in the series about Henry, but the first one that I have read.  The first book in the series won the 2007 Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award in Canada, so that one is definitely worth seeking out too.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.



The third of the Henry books (When You Were Small, 2006; Where You Came From, 2008) continues the adorable journey but doesn’t veer from the path. Henry wants to know about when his mother was small.  She responds by telling him her name was Dorothea, but  “because the name was too big for me, everyone called me Dot.” 

The picture on the facing page shows a class of really cute children inked in black and white, an equally cute teacher and Henry’s doll-sized mom in bright red. She went swimming in the birdbath, could “feast on a single raspberry” and wore a daisy for a sunhat. The text for each spread floats on a pure white page, and on the opposite page Morstad’s beautiful, clear drawings characterized by the spot use of color float on the same white space. The endpapers are full of similarly fanciful images of tiny Dot standing under a toadstool, leaping over a daisy or sporting butterflies as headgear. “In stories we can be small together,” his mother says, ending this quiet mother-and-son idyll. Winsome. (Picture book. 4-7)

My Mama's Goodnight - Sara O’Leary and Julie Morstad may be the finest writer/illustrator team since Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake. Their utterly lovely book, “When You Were Small”, is a feast of words and pictures the likes of which I have not seen in some time. Henry is a little boy who, like most children, likes to hear about when he was small. So, his loving father, with a penchant for exaggeration and wit, spins tales of Henry’s infancy when he could sleep in his father’s left slipper and bathe in a teapot. The whimsy with which O’Leary’s words spill forth is perfectly matched by Morstad’s gorgeous drawings. This is a match (and a book) made in Heaven. I would recommend reading it every night…right after your warm and fragrant teapot bath.