Discovering a new book by Lauren Child is always a joy. I have loved her every single step of the way from Clarice Bean onwards, and her books are perennial favourites with all the children I come across. She is most widely recognised for her Charlie and Lola books, which have now been made into a CBeebies television show, but her work is far more wide ranging than that and if you’ve never ventured farther than Charlie and Lola I urge you to discover everything she has to offer.
The New Small Person is a standalone picture book story about Elmore Green.
Elmore has the perfect life. He has a wonderful bedroom where he can lay out everything just to his satisfaction. He has wonderful parents who think he is the best thing since sliced bread. He has adoring friends and family and probably most importantly, he gets to eat all the orange jelly beans in the jar without having to share.
One day his life is ruined by the arrival of the new small person. Elmore is not happy, and as the new small person grows up and invades more of Elmore’s space, he becomes less and less happy.
This is an oft told tale in children’s picture books. There are all sorts of tales about dealing with sibling rivalry, some of them mischievous, some of them sappy, some of them sweet. What does Lauren Child bring to the mix that other authors don’t?
Well, for me, it is largely about her illustrations. I love her artwork. I like the mixed media presentation, the use of unusual fonts, the twisting text and the way she utilises every scrap of space to create a wonderful narrative environment. You may think this style has been done to death now, but Lauren Child pretty much pioneered this stuff, and it is in large part thanks to her influence that picture books have become much more dynamic and exciting in recent years.
The other thing I like is that this story doesn’t really focus on the parents or the adults. They don’t fix things, just as in Child’s other works, it is what goes on when the grown ups aren’t there and the children have to figure things out for themselves that make the books interesting. It is a subtle and effective way of making children understand they have the power to change the way they think and feel about things without adult intervention.
In this book I particularly loved the use of language. Child has always been brilliant at coining phrases that sound exactly like things children really say. In this book my favourite lines were:
“I have more things”, said the small person.
‘I have at least five or three things. You can have them.”
This richness of language, attention to the patterns of children’s real speech and vocabulary is so joyous. Children will identify with these characters because they speak just like they do. Adults will find it charming and funny. It’s all good.
What is particularly powerful in this book is the way that Elmore thinks about his sibling. He uses the word ‘it’, which is incredibly powerful and a really interesting demarcation of the fact that Elmore sees his sibling as a creature or a thing rather than a person.
I asked my son if there was something special that indicated when he knew that Elmore had accepted his brother. Instantly he said: ‘It’s when he changes from using the word ‘it’ to ‘he’, and then he uses his real name, because he is real then.’
Moving, funny, profound, powerful and most importantly an absolute pleasure to read and share. I loved this book. If I had to pick one book to stock in my school library about sibling rivalry, it would be this one.