enormous SMALLNESS – A Story of E.E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess & illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo

By Maureen Tai, 28 April 2019

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places                             – e.e. cummings


American poet Edward Estlin (e.e.) Cumming’s (1894 – 1962) life art was in seeing and creating wonderful world-words from the ordinary and small everyday. This inspired and beautifully illustrated non-fiction picture book tells his story in an engaging and relatable way while introducing e.e.’s unconventional, distinctive and refreshingly modernist style of poetry to younger readers. A word of warning: you might be compelled to drop your upper case letters after this encounter.

Edward Estlin Cummings grew up in a large bustling household of people and pets, surrounded by nature. What he saw around him inspired his earliest poems –  the birds outside his window, the maple trees, his father – and as he grew into a little boy, elephants were a recurring motif in his poems and drawings. While his childhood didn’t seem particularly unusual or different from any other, e.e. drew inspiration from his daily interactions and developed a playful and enduring love for words. He would write them out, twist them around and squash them together, like a toddler playing with a squishy toy. He would spend his days writing, and imagining.  As a child, in the cabin that his father made for him near his family’s farm, or in the treehouse nestled in the branches of a large tree near his home on Irving Street. As a teenager, in the dorm room at university. As a young man, in Paris while serving as an ambulance man in World War I.  And after the war, among the bright lights and lively streets of New York City, where e.e. would live for the remainder of his life.

Perhaps as a reminder of his lifelong love of nature, elements of the natural world can be found sequestered in almost all of the earth-toned pages of this lovely picture book. Try to spot the birds and the prancing bunnies, or the dog-paddling dog and the stampeding elephants, or the perplexed seagulls and the leaping frog. Such fun! The illustrations complement the light-hearted text, which is set in varying fonts including a personal favourite of mine, vintage typewriter. enormous SMALLNESS is not just a visually compelling introduction to e.e.’s life and his works, but an homage to the extraordinary talent of a seemingly ordinary little boy at a window, looking out.

For ages 8 and up.

who are you, little i

(five or six years old)
peering from some high

window; at the gold

of November sunset

(and feeling: that if day
has to become night

this is a beautiful way)              

e.e. cummings


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