When Ashley Spires first began publishing, I had the joy of reviewing her first two picture books: Binky the Space Cat (2009) and Binky to the Rescue (2010). Her books have delighted young readers and parents ever since, and this year Small Saul was chosen as the TD Grade One Book Giveaway title.
Every year, Toronto Dominion bank sponsors the TD Children’s Book Awards, which “rewarding the best literary work by Canadian authors for children.” In addition to this sponsorship, since the year 2000, TD has joined with the Canadian Children’s Book Centre to create “the largest free-book distribution program to school-aged children in Canada. All English and French Grade One students receive a free copy of a Canadian children’s book … which they can keep to take home and read with their parents and caregivers.” What a marvellous program, and what a great book to have chosen.
Small Saul has always loved the sea, but is rejected by the navy due to his height. Undaunted, he turns to piracy, because “pirates aren’t so picky.” The incongruity between our notion of pirates, the courses at the “Pirate College” Saul attends, and Saul’s diminutive stature and gentle nature, are fodder for Spire’s quirky humour. Saul’s exuberate joyousness contrasts with the pirates’ stereotypic roughness—in both words and images—culminating in a very pirate-like moment: “Small Saul was so engrossed … that he didn’t even notice when the captain pushed him overboard. The Rusty Squid sailed away… ” But don’t worry! No small pirates were injured in the making of this narrative. The pirate crew find it hard to return to life without the comfort of Saul’s care, and retrieve him.
This might not seem the most earth-shatteringly original of ideas—that our differences are what make us special—but it is a message that deserves to be reiterated often. When it is presented with Spire’s humorous and adorable illustrations, the story is impossible to resist. (And I really like the dress Saul makes for the seagull…)