Elspeth Lorraine

Book Reviews

May 12, 2023

"BIG" By Vashti Harrison

BIG is a love story about loving and protecting …yourself! The first page starts with a baby girl touching the rainbow of stars hanging from her mobile with the text, “Once there was a girl / with a big laugh and a big heart / and very big dreams.” In the beginning this girl is encouraged and told she is a “big girl!” when she uses her manners and learns her ABCs and 123s. She loves dancing and we see her grow from a baby to a little girl in a swirl of ballet shoes and flowing arms. But over time we see the word big become less of a complement and more of a reproach. “You're a big girl” is no longer something good to hear. When she gets stuck in a swing, she hears (and internalizes) mean comments and name calling about her size. This breaks her heart. Her ballet costume is traded in for a mountain costume in the ballet recital. Vashti created a sequence of art where we see the little girl grow too big for the pages before she collapses in tears. Eventually she begins to “see things more clearly” and she picks up all the hurtful words and hands them back to the people who gave them to her. 

Bits and Pieces: This book is timely and a wake up call for those who think their words are innocuous. My goddaughter’s mother has a, “We don't comment on other people’s bodies” rule. I love this rule because I was raised to believe that your worth was about how you look and what you weigh. The weight comments from the previous generation were a constant bombardment. In the Author’s Note, Vashti shares her own experience and what lead her to write this book. In an interview with NPR she says, "I wanted to make a story that felt sort of universal and talked about things that many Black girls in our society face, including adultification (ph) bias and anti-fat bias." I believe this book does some much needed work on our explicit and implicit bias. 

Not Sure About: If you know anything about me you know I love naming people/things/pets/anything. This little girl didn’t have a name and it was an important choice for inclusivity, but I have no idea how Vashti resisted. I wanted her to be named Misty for Misty Copeland but even I know that’s a bit on the nose.

Favorite Part: The colors of soft pink, purple and some gray AND her hairdo AND her immense joy in dancing AND the end when she knows “She was good.” 

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