Reviews /

Big

Authored by Vashti Harrison
Illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Published by Penguin Random House Children's UK

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Big is the first picturebook by the award-winning creator of the Little Leaders series, Vashti Harrison. It tells the story of a little girl who has ‘a big laugh and a big heart and very big dreams’ and everything is good as she grows and dreams until one day it wasn’t. The word big begins to be used with negative connotations. As she sits on Santa’s lap he comments, ‘You’re a big girl, aren’t you?’ and she is told she is too big for the swing after she gets stuck. Over time the negative comments of others make her shrink inside and feel small. She finds herself judged for her size yet invisible. It culminates in a sequence of spreads where the girl grows larger on the pages until she completely fills them. Finally, she releases her feelings and decides to ‘make more space for herself’, returning the words that have caused her so much pain, telling the owners, ‘These are yours. They hurt me.’ Not everyone understands and it is the girl who is finally able to see herself for what she truly is and celebrate herself. A girl who is imaginative, creative, compassionate, smart, funny, gentle, sweet and kind.

Big is an extraordinary picturebook and one I found deeply moving. There are few picturebooks which tackle people’s perception of size and attitudes towards others and this does so in the most beautiful way. My own daughter was always extremely tall for her age and I can remember people feeling able to comment on how big she was is a way that left her feeling that she had done something wrong. The expectations of her were always high because assumptions were made about her age in relation to her height. Vashti Harrison doesn’t promise a solution because people will continue to feel they can pass comment on people’s appearance without considering the harm that their words can do. She does provide a way for children to celebrate their own strengths and for the reader to consider their own bias.

I highly recommend Big for all settings with young people and would say it is essential reading. The message makes it powerful to share with children (and parents) as well as being an exceptionally beautifully illustrated book to look at.