David Small stood in the cold, Michigan predawn light one morning in January 2001 making coffee. He was feeling a bit sorry for himself, wishing he could be somewhere warmer. Then the phone rang, and a representative of the 2001 Caldecott committee announced Small was the 2001 winner for So You Want to Be President? Shrieking "I won the Caldecott!," he ran upstairs to wake his wife.
Small's first Caldecott recognition came when The Gardener, on which he and his wife Sarah Stewart collaborated, was named as an Honor Book in 1998. These award-winning books are only two from a long list of children's favorites. A notable book on the list is Imogene's Antlers, which has sold over a million copies and has been translated into Italian and French. Imogene was also featured on "Reading Rainbow" and"Between the Lions."
Born in Detroit, Michigan, David Small's artistic gifts were obvious quite early to his parents and teachers. He began drawing at age two. Later his mother took him for art lessons at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Being at the Institute, wandering through the galleries, and absorbing the great art there, including the murals of Diego Rivera, had a profound effect on him. As a child, he decorated the walls of the family basement with murals.
Because of a bout with serious illness in childhood, Small spent long periods bedridden and alone. That coupled with his shyness set him apart as different and sowed the seeds for the themes of some of his future books that deal with the difficulties of being an outsider.
Growing up, Small spent many summers in rural Indiana with his grandparents which fed his love of animals and country life. This affection shows in many of his books. One of his favorite things is to sketch outdoors.
His droll wit shines through both his art and in the words he writes for his self-illustrated books like George Washington's Cows and Fenwick's Suit. It is especially evident in the art of his award-winning So You Want to Be President? which was written by Judith St. George.
After receiving a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale, David Small taught drawing and printmaking on the university level for 14 years. He lost his job in the 1980s because of cutbacks. This brought both a crisis and a commitment to begin working on combining his love of art and writing. Submitted to more than 20 publishers, his first book Eulalie and the Hopping Head was eventually published in 1982.
Some of his best books have been in partnership with his wife Sarah Stewart, a native of Texas. Some of their later books include The Library, The Gardener, and The Journey. All three titles are laced with a sweet poignancy, but they also feature strong, energetic female characters.
David Small works with watercolor, pen and ink, and pastel. His later works have a much softer look, but they continue to include his trademark attention to small details that beg to be poured over again and again. Growing as an artist is important to Small. He feels he has not yet done his best work, and enjoys challenging himself with new ideas, styles and media. In 2013, Small won another Caldecott honor for his book, One Cool Friend.