Author and Illustrator: David Small
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: September, 2009
Genre/Format: Memoir/Graphic Novel
GoodReads Summary: One day David Small awoke from a supposedly harmless operation to discover that he had been transformed into a virtual mute. A vocal cord removed, his throat slashed and stitched together like a bloody boot, the fourteen-year-old boy had not been told that he had cancer and was expected to die.
In Stitches, Small, the award-winning children’s illustrator and author, re-creates this terrifying event in a life story that might have been imagined by Kafka. As the images painfully tumble out, one by one, we gain a ringside seat at a gothic family drama where David—a highly anxious yet supremely talented child—all too often became the unwitting object of his parents’ buried frustration and rage.
Believing that they were trying to do their best, David’s parents did just the reverse. Edward Small, a Detroit physician, who vented his own anger by hitting a punching bag, was convinced that he could cure his young son’s respiratory problems with heavy doses of radiation, possibly causing David’s cancer. Elizabeth, David’s mother, tyrannically stingy and excessively scolding, ran the Small household under a cone of silence where emotions, especially her own, were hidden.
Depicting this coming-of-age story with dazzling, kaleidoscopic images that turn nightmare into fairy tale, Small tells us of his journey from sickly child to cancer patient, to the troubled teen whose risky decision to run away from home at sixteen—with nothing more than the dream of becoming an artist—will resonate as the ultimate survival statement.
A silent movie masquerading as a book, Stitches renders a broken world suddenly seamless and beautiful again.
What Jen Thinks: I read Stitches before seeing David Small speak at the Anderson's Children's Literature Breakfast in February. After reading this book, I listened to him speak with a completely different perspective. I marveled at his ability to talk in the first place, and that he has become, what seems to me, a really nice man. It is amazing to think of all that he went through as a child. His drawings really brought his childhood to life for me. Only recently, after reading so many books, have I really started to visualize what is happening when I read a book. I know some people who are able to visualize everything clearly but for me it's doesn't come naturally. This book speaks to the power of a graphic novel to tell a story with the drawings. I will definitely use this with high school students to demonstrate how a format can be any genre. It still seems rare for a graphic novel to be nonfiction - even though I know there are plenty non-fiction graphic novels out there. This book seems much more poignant because it is an memoir that belongs to the illustrator and the story is so haunting.
What Kellee Thinks: This is one of the hardest books I've ever read. I thought that a graphic novel about such a dark topic would be easier than a standard book, but I think it was actually the opposite. The illustrations added another level to the intensity of the story. It is a haunting novel dealing with resilience against abuse, cancer and insanity.
Read Together: Grades 9 - 12
Read Alone: Grades 9 - 12
Read With: A Long Way Home by Ishmael Beah, Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
Snatch of Text:
Writing Prompts: Write about a time in your life when you felt frustrated with another person. How did you deal with the situation. Write about a time in your life when you felt overwhelmed.
Topics Covered: Cancer, Child Abuse, Insanity
Jen and Kellee *heart* it