Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, July 20, 2015

enormous SMALLNESS

enormous SMALLNESS: A Story of E.E. Cummings 
by Matthew Burgess
illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
Enchanted Lion Books, 2015
Grades 2-5

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her local library.

I've heard from several public librarians that picture book biographies rarely circulate from their biography collections. I'm fortunate that in the school library where I work my K-5 students regularly check out picture book biographies. Much of it is because teachers read aloud picture book biographies to their classes, and they encourage older readers to continue to read picture books.  I also try to book talk picture book biographies to students whenever I have the chance. This summer I read a picture book biography that I can't wait to share with my students and their teachers in September.

Enormous Smallness is a lengthy (64 pages) picture book biography about the poet E.E. Cummings. The book has a whimsical tone and incorporates a lot of word play in the style of Melissa Sweet. The accessible narrative writing describes how Cummings was curious and observant as a child, and his mother often wrote down poems that Cummings dictated. Burgess traces Cummings' life as he graduates from Harvard, fights in World War I, and returns to the states to pursue his dream of becoming a poet. The book does an excellent job of showing how Cummings' style impacted American poetry.

"Using a style all his own, 
e.e. put lowercase letters where capitals normally of, 
and his playful punctuation grabbed readers' attention.
His poems were alive with experimentation and surprise!"

Di Giacomo's playful collage illustrations perfectly reflect the joy Cummings found in words and in the world around him. The placement of poems and text on the illustrations is quite effective. On one page, a tree serves as the background for a quote by John Keats. One another page, a poem by Cummings is placed on the dark silhouette of an elephant.

Enormous Smallness would make an excellent read aloud as part of a biography or poetry unit. After reading about Cummings' life and poetry, readers may be inspired to write their own poems or create their own poem collages. Back matter includes more poems by Cummings, a timeline and an author's note. Pair Enormous Smallness with Love That Dog by Sharon Creech, Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People by Monica Brown or A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet .

Visit the author's website to view spreads from the book.


  1. I love ee cummings, so I pre-orderedt this book based on reviews and it did not disappoint--love it! I love the illustrations too. Thanks for spreading the word ;)

  2. Just put this on hold at the library based on your review, Cathy! I adore e.e. cummings and can't wait to read it!