Small Things Reviews

Booklist ★ Starred Review

SmallThings_Website“In this wordless picture book-graphic novel mashup, originally published in Australia, artist Tregonning introduces an unnamed boy grappling with corrosive anxiety….Much like the boy’s ever-transforming anxieties, panels shift from slender, compressed squares to sweeping double-page spreads. The otherworldly glow of the black-and-white palette, too, elegantly underscores the boy’s ongoing battle against darkness. More than a moving portrayal of one boy’s struggle, this is also a magnifying lens through which to identify and discuss mental illness with readers of all ages. Don’t let its title or page count fool you, Small Things’ effects are monumental.”
— Briana Shemroske

Read the full review in the April 2018 issue of Booklist

School Library Journal ★ Starred Review

“[An] incredibly moving tale…This wordless, picture book–size graphic novel is rendered in beautiful gradients of pencil. It was created by the late Tregonning and completed by Shaun Tan (The Arrival), whose own style is similarly characterized by surrealism. Cute character designs with bobble heads and circular eyes make the work pensive rather than depressing. This is a sympathetic examination of anxiety that never assigns blame; instead, the authors acknowledge the complexity of the situation and that resolutions aren’t easy….VERDICT With direction from educators, guidance counselors, or parents, this poignant title will resonate with those dealing with mental illness. A superb example of bibliotherapy.”
—Rachel Forbes, Oakville Public Library, Ont.

Read the full review in the March/April 2018 issue of School Library Journal

Foreword Reviews ★ Starred Review

“A boy struggles to fit in at a new school in this wordless story with a big message about childhood anxiety and the power of kindness and acceptance….[The illustrations] depict the insidious nature of worry…”

Read the full review in the May/June 2018 issue of Foreword Reviews

The Times Literary Supplement

“When giving children books, well-meaning adults may feel impelled to offer challenge, too – opting for text-dense vocabulary boosters at the reader’s diagnosed level, with the difficulty ramped up a little for luck. However gentle, though, this sort of nudge is not an unalloyed blessing. It may pluck children out of storylines in which they were ecstatically resident; deny them the elegant plotting of a well-turned mystery, the satisfying structure of a pony story or the terseness of a comic adventure….

A frequent casualty of the utilitarian focus on advancement and sheer length is illustration, and the reader’s respect for it. The children told “You’re too old for picture books” are not only banished abruptly from an enchanted kingdom. They are also held back from winkling out images’ stored secrets of detail, and from learning the artist’s language of window-frame, colour, light, shade, emphasis, the single line that communicates mood, or loss, or season – everything we mean by “visual literacy”. Sophisticated, demanding concepts may also be com­municated, via illustration, to readers unable or unwilling as yet to parse the complex language required.

Small Things, a wordless graphic novel by Mel Tregonning, and finished, after her death, by Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin), is an extra­ordinary example: an illustrated book that communicates difficult, painful ideas solely via intricate monochrome graphite drawings….[T]o the ten- or twelve-year-old besieged by incipient anxiety or depression it offers a ­significant potential gift: understanding, and the possibility of recovery….The image of a small, vulnerable body breaking down by degrees, while deeply discomfiting, honours the weight of what it conveys; and the book as a whole celebrates the helpfulness of uncon­ditional love, while successfully avoiding a superficial, unduly swift resolution….”

Click here to read the full review

The Horn Book Magazine

“In this wordless story told through paneled graphite art that makes achingly attuned use of chiaroscuro, a boy is having a hard time—not the kind many picture-book kids have en route to finding a problem’s clear-cut solution, but an enduringly hard time….One hopes this book will reach children who relate to the boy’s plight and anyone who, like the boy’s sister, suspects that a loved one is in pain and needs help.”
—Nell Beram

Read the full review in the July/August 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine

Publishers Weekly

“The late Australian artist Tregonning’s wordless graphic tale, completed posthumously with help from Shaun Tan, captures the way anxiety can ravage children’s lives….Tregonning creates a visual language for the pain of depression and anxiety, and her story may provide a measure of hope to those who might otherwise have given up in despair.”

Click here to read the full review

Kirkus Reviews

“Anxiety is more than a feeling in this visual narrative, more than the pressure of school tests, the loneliness of exclusion by classmates, or the fear of such shortcomings being discovered at home. Anxiety, represented here by ominously sharp swirls of black ink, has a visceral, visual gravitas—it grows to fill literal and figurative space as the young protagonist’s outlook progresses steadily downhill….[T]he refreshing visibility and validity of childhood pressures accompanied by the equally important realization that no one is alone in their experience of such strain balances the slight risk that readers might lose track of the narrative….A picture book that wants to be a graphic novel, and a message worthy of both.”

Click here to read the full review

CM Magazine

“Every once in a while, we are privileged with the gift of holding in our hands truly unique and emotionally riveting books which have the capacity to leave permanent footprints etched in the heart. Mel Tregonning’s Small Things is, undeniably, one of those books. While Tregonning’s untimely passing in 2014 has resulted in her being unable to physically witness the impact that her work has had on so many lives, it is safe to say that the legacy she has left behind in Small Things will continue to inspire and promote awareness for years to come….

Sadly, Tregonning was unable to see her project to its entirety, and, therefore, the final illustrations of the book were completed by renowned illustrator Shaun Tan who has forever redefined the genre of children’s literature with his creative, wordless vision and masterful life-like illustrations through such influential books as The Arrival. The similarities between Tregonning’s and Tan’s work are uncanny, and their mutual use of black and white and intricate shading techniques results in an extraordinarily realistic and haunting visual depiction of the actions and emotions of their characters. While evidently unforeseen, this chance merger of two such prolific illustrators of our time has resulted in a wordless masterpiece that, like The Arrival, effortlessly taps into the rawness of the human experience.

In Small Things, the author seems to speak to us from beyond the pages with a poignant reminder that no one is ever truly alone in their internal battles. Furthermore, Tregonning’s young protagonist acts as an example of the newfound hope and healing that can progressively emerge from confiding in others during life’s more challenging phases. Perhaps what makes this book most appealing is its relatability. Readers of all ages will be able to associate with the examples of daily stresses and worries that make us vulnerable and, at times, chip away at the soul, leaving temporary cracks for the light to escape. This beautifully depicted textless narrative which effectively honours not only the life of Tregonning, herself, but also the lives of all those who have been impacted by struggles with mental health, is a must-have, one-of-a-kind addition to every school library and home collection.

Highly Recommended.
—Christina Quintiliani is an Ontario Certified Teacher and Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Education, Brock University, St. Catharines, ON., where she is researching children’s literature.

Click here to read the full review

Literacious

“Personal Reaction:This is an extremely powerful, wordless graphic novel about the anxiety and worry that affects one little boy and yet is so universal in its imagery. I think this would make a powerful addition to an older elementary and even middle school classroom and would be a great conversation starter for a class, book discussion or even one-on-one about anxiety, expectations, and self care….A truly powerful story that will resonate with many.”

Click here to read the full review

Fab Book Reviews

Small Things is one of those tremendous reads that is an experience…Mel Tregonning’s Small Things, a wordless graphic picture book, is all at once superbly illustrated, unforgettable, extremely emotionally resonant, beautiful, heartbreaking, and hopeful all at once. Far too often I have had conversations with a parent or caregiver at the library who does not see merit in wordless books; an adult who tries to dissuade their child from reading a wordless picture book as ‘there are no words in it, why would you read it’. I find this crushing and a total disservice to the potent, consequential nature of wordless graphic books like Small Things….

Overall, I highly, highly recommend this title for readers young and old….An exceptional, stand-out piece that opens the way for discourse on mental health, I hope Small Things is a title that gets shared, talked about and appreciated.”

Click here to read the full review

Marmalade Books

“According to parenting and teaching educator Barbara Coloroso, childhood anxiety is an issue facing an alarming number of youth today. The subject is hit head-on in Small Things, an amazing and emotional new wordless graphic picture book for ages 8-12, by Australian artist Mel Tregonning.

I received an advance copy from the Canadian publisher Pajama Press. It immediately reminded me of Shaun Tan’s book The Arrival, published in 2007. I never forgot this migrant story. Also wordless in graphic book style, it was the perfect way for the ‘reader’ to really feel what it would be like to arrive in a foreign country, not able to speak or read the language or understand the culture….

Mel Tregonning was obviously inspired by Shaun Tan’s work and created a similar opportunity for readers to see what it would be like to walk in the shoes of a child suffering from debilitating anxiety….

This is an important book for pre-teens and young teens that deal with or know someone that deals with anxiety. A must for middle grade school libraries and would be an ideal conversation starter for classrooms.

Like The ArrivalSmall Things is also a book this bookseller won’t forget.”

Click here to read the full review

Canadian Bookworm

“This graphic picture book just blew me away….The drawings are amazing, showing the child’s emotions clearly. The way the drawings show the loss of self are brilliant and relatable. I absolutely loved this book and will be recommending it. The publisher information indicates a targeted age range of 8-12, but it can definitely be for adults as well.”

Click here to read the full review

Jill’s Book Blog

“When I was a kid, I didn’t like picture books without words. However, now I know that the pictures can tell a more powerful story without words. This is the case with this book….

The illustrations in this book are beautiful….The depiction of his demons were much more prominent though the images than they would have been with words. The number or demons increased so much that they eventually filled the entire page. This is a great, honest way to show how the demons of anxiety can consume a child or adult.

I loved this picture book! It is a powerful story for adults or children.”

Click here to read the full review

Book Time

Small Things by Mel Tregonning ($22.95, Pajama Press) is one of the most unique picture books I have read in a while….

In the afterword by Barbara Coloroso, author of Kids Are Worth It, writes ‘Mel Tregonning speaks volumes about childhood anxiety – an issue facing an alarming number of youth today.’…

Once I read that afterword, my first thought was Wow. What a powerful message with powerful illustrations.

But I wondered if my nine-year-old son would get it. When I ‘read’ it to him, I told him the black creatures were demons and we looked through the story together. I explained to him about anxiety and not letting fear get in your way of doing what you want to do. I plan to keep this book and pull it out once in a while to remind my son of what doubt, fear and negative self-talk can do. Because I think Coloroso is right – this book is a great starting pointing to help identify anxiety and ensure my son never let the demons win.”

Click here to read the full review

Kiss the Book

“[E]veryone…has their own cracks and missing pieces and maybe by reaching out with kindness we all can slowly heal.

Tregonning has written a wordless picture book, that is almost dense enough to be a graphic novel – at least a graphic short story. I would love for this to be discovered by upper elementary and middle school students…

EL – ESSENTIAL.  MS, HS – OPTIONAL.”
—Cindy, Library Teacher

Click here to read the full review