PERSONAL: Married David Small (an illustrator); children: Ginny, Mark, L. D. Education: "Studied Latin and philosophy at an unfortunate number of colleges and universities."
ADDRESSES: Home—(summer) 25626 Simpson Road, Mendon, MI 49072; (winter) 17A Piedras Chinas, San Miguel de Allenda Gto. 37700, Mexico.
CAREER: Writer. Former teacher, speechwriter, and ombudsman. Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, artist-in-residence, 2000.
AWARDS, HONORS: ABBY Award Honor Book and Pick of the Lists, American Booksellers Association, Outstanding Book of the Year, New York Times, Notable Children's Book, New York Times Book Review, and Best Book of the Year, Parenting, all 1995, all for The Library; One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing selection, New York Public Library, Best Books of the Year selection, School Library Journal, Blue Ribbon selection, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Notable Children's Book, American Library Association (ALA), ABBY Award Honor Book, and First-Place Juvenile Literary Award, Friends of American Writers, all 1997, Juvenile Literary Award, Friends of American Writers, 1997, and Caldecott Honor Book, 1998, Christopher Award, and Vermont Red Clover Children's Choice Picture Book Award, all for The Gardener; Best Books of the Year selection, Publishers Weekly, Best Book, School Library Journal, Best Book, Booklist, Heartland Prize (children's category), Great Lakes Booksellers Association, and Riverbank Book of Distinction, all 2001, all for The Journey.
ILLUSTRATED BY HUSBAND, DAVID SMALL
The Money Tree, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1991.
The Library, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1995.
The Gardener, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1997.
The Journey, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2001.
ADAPTATIONS: The Gardener was adapted as an audio recording by Live Oak Media.
SIDELIGHTS: The husband-and-wife team of writer Sarah Stewart and illustrator David Small have collaborated on four books for all ages. Their first book together was The Money Tree, which takes place in an unusual garden. Miss McGillicuddy has grown a cash-sprouting tree, whose dollar-bill foliage attracts greedy officials and others hoping to scavenge the "greenery." But Miss McGillicuddy is not interested in the kind of wealth a money tree could bring. Instead, she comes up with a harvest-time solution that brings the town's rampant greed to an end: she chops down the tree and uses its wood to keep her warm all winter. While the message of materialism may evade some of the youngest readers, suggested a Publishers Weekly reviewer, the book "will raise worthwhile questions for both children and adults."
The Library presents an independent-minded protagonist, Elizabeth Brown, whose affinity for reading begins in childhood and supercedes most other social activities through the years. Told in verse, the book relates how Elizabeth is happiest with a book and how she collects them copiously, hoping to read every book in existence. By the end of her long life, however, she finds that she has too many volumes to handle at home. Her solution is to turn her house into the Elizabeth Brown library and share her love of literature with the entire town. Ilene Cooper of Booklist praised The Library for its gentle humor and homey illustrations, noting that "reading has never looked quite so delicious." Horn Book contributor Ann A. Flowers called Stewart's effort a "deeply satisfying story," remarking that the images of a content Elizabeth sitting by the fire with a friend, working her way through stacks of books, "depict the acme of utter bliss for bibliomaniacs."
"Elizabeth Brown from The Library … would certainly appreciate Lydia Grace Finch," the protagonist of Stewart and Small's Caldecott Medal-winning book The Gardener, declared Susan P. Bloom of Horn Book. "Each of these red-headed, spirited protagonists has a true passion—the one for books, the other for flowers." In the Depression-era tale The Gardener, Lydia Grace is introduced as a child in 1935. With her parents out of work, the girl is sent to live with her Uncle Jim, who is a baker in the city. Lydia's letters home comprise the text, which, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, conveys well "her utterly (and convincingly) sunny personality." Lydia Grace brings color and joy to her uncle's life by indulging in her favorite activity, gardening, though she never accomplishes her key goal, getting her loving but dour uncle to smile. The Publishers Weekly writer went on to note that the final scene, with Lydia wrapped in her uncle's goodbye hug as she prepares to return home, "speaks volumes about the vast impact one small individual can make." In the view of Trish Wesley of Horticulture, the child serves a purpose in "sending positive messages about goals, patience, and the rewards of diligence."
A young girl also figures prominently in The Journey, which like The Gardener is told in epistolary form. The story records a trip to Chicago, which is a new experience for Hannah, an Amish child. Double-spread depictions of the big city are interspersed with memories of the home that Hannah has left behind. While a Horn Book contributor felt that The Journey does not match the "emotional richness" of The Gardener, Wendy Lukehart of School Library Journal found more to recommend. The Journey, she said, "offers so much: a glimpse into Amish culture and Chicago treasures … [plus] a fresh authentic voice; and a design perfectly melded to its subtle message."
Stewart once commented: "There are no computers in my home, and the TV lives in a closet. I'm a very private person who writes and gardens (and then reads about writers and gardeners—and everything else under the sun!). I hope that the readers of my books will honor my privacy and understand that I need long periods of aloneness and silence, or I will not be able to hear the muse when she speaks."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 1995, Ilene Cooper, review of The Library, p. 1338; June 1, 1997, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Gardener, p. 1722; March 15, 2001, Ellen Mandel, review of The Journey, p. 1399.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1995, Roger Sutton, review of The Library, pp. 323-324.
Five Owls, May, 1993, review of The Money Tree, p. 105.
Horn Book, January-February, 1992, Hanna Zeiger, review of The Money Tree, p. 62; July-August, 1995, Ann A. Flowers, review of The Library,p. 454; November-December, 1997, Susan P. Bloom, review of The Gardener, p. 673; March, 2001, Susan P. Bloom, review of The Journey, p. 202.
Horticulture, April, 1999, Trish Wesley, review of The Gardener, p. 98.
Publishers Weekly, April 10, 1995, review of The Library, p. 61; June 2, 1997, review of The Gardener, p. 70; January 8, 2001, review of The Journey, p. 66.
School Library Journal, January, 1992, The Money Tree, p. 83; September, 1995, Trev Jones, review of The Library, p. 187; September, 1996, Peggy Latkovich, review of The Library, p. 156; August, 1997, Virginia Golodetz, review of The Gardener, p. 143; March, 2001, Wendy Lukehart, review of The Journey, p. 220.
Highlights TeacherNet,http://www.teachernet.com/ (March 11, 2003), Katherine Romano, interview with Sarah Stewart and David Small.*