Cover image for A small thing ... but big
A small thing ... but big
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Roaring Press Press, c2016.
Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) ; color illustrations ; 29 cm.
General Note:
"A Neal Porter Book."
Added Author:
Lizzie meets an elderly man and his companion, Cecile, at the park, but Lizzie is afraid of dogs, so she relies on her new friend to help her take things one step at a time.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book EASY JOH 1 1

On Order



Lizzie and her mum go to the park. That's where Lizzie meets an elderly man and his companion, Cecile, a dog about her size. But Lizzie is afraid of dogs, so she'll have to rely on her new friend to help her take things one step at a time.Getting over your fears may seem like a small thing... but it sure can feel big.

Author Notes

Tony Johnston was born in Los Angeles, California on January 30, 1942. She received a B.A. in history and an M.A in education from Stanford University. Before becoming a full-time author, she worked as a fourth-grade teacher.

She has written over 70 books for children. Her titles include Amber on the Mountain, the Cowboy and the Black-Eyed Pea, Day of the Dead, the Ghost of Nicholas Greebe, the Sparky and Eddie series, and the Adventures of Mole and Troll. Her first adult novel was Any Small Goodness.

Her works have earned her several awards including a Children's Choice Award for Four Scary Stories and the Beatty Award in 2002 for Any Small Goodness.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

It's a glorious day in a classically styled park: big trees line the avenues, and water sparkles in a fountain. Visiting with her mother, Lizzie encounters an elegantly dressed elderly gentleman who is walking his dog, Cecile. The dog seems nice, but Lizzie is fearful. Cecile's owner sees that Lizzie wants to be brave, however, and with quiet encouragement and a little humor ("Does she bite?" asks Lizzie. "Only her food," says the man), Lizzie sheds her fears step by step. By the end of the story, she walks Cecile around the park all by herself. It's a lovely story about a transformative connection that goes both ways, as well as the power of modest revelations-beautifully summed up in the book's title, which is also a refrain in the text. There's also just enough reassurance for grownups-Hooper (The Iridescence of Birds) visually establishes that Lizzie's mother and the gentleman are friends-to assuage any misgivings about stranger danger. Johnston's (First Grade, Here I Come!) concise, courtly prose and Hooper's graceful illustrations exude an old-fashioned sweetness. Ages 4-7. Illustrator's agency: Marlena Agency. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

An anxious little girl called Lizzie. A small dog named Cecile. A dapper old man. A mother not afraid to give her daughter some space. A park, perhaps in Paris. These are all small things that add up to very big things for everyone involved. Lizzie, playing happily by herself, comes face-to-face with a dog. Shes hesitant, but the dogs owner gently encourages her to join them on a walk around the park (Mom waves permission from a bench). A park is a busy place, and many other little adventures are happening in the background: a boy with a soft spot for birds and rabbits; a brother and sister making a toy boat out of newspaper. But each pages composition highlights the growing trust between Lizzie and Cecile. Told in spare, adverb-filled text, there are times when the syntax feels awkward (Do not be worried, said the old man of the dog timidly), perhaps reflecting the characters own awkwardness. The light-toned palette of the relief-print illustrations allows the reader to find little Lizzie and active Cecile on each spread, and Hoopers attention to detail encourages viewers to notice both the activities in the foreground and the goings-on in the background. The twist at the end may please adult more than child readers, but it does show young people that its not only children who can take small steps toward something bigger. robin smith (c) Copyright 2016. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* At the park, Lizzie is intrigued by Cecile, a dog accompanied by an old gentleman, but she's a little fearful, too. Does she bite?' asked Lizzie anxiously. / Only her food,' said the old man. With his encouragement, she pats the dog. After more timid questions and reassuring answers, Lizzie finds the courage to walk alongside them for a little while and, later, to walk Cecile on her own. Watching events unfold from a little distance, Lizzie's mom gives her daughter a bit of independence but stays reassuringly within sight. Each time Lizzie tries something new, the man or the narrator repeats the title phrase: A small thing, but big. Afterward, Lizzie tells the man, Before today, I was very afraid of dogs, and he responds by confessing a fear of his own, one that may surprise children. Few writers can match Johnston's sense of language, audience, and storytelling in a picture book, and this quiet, precise text is one of her best. The illustrator of Patricia MacLachlan's The Iridescence of Birds (2014), Hooper uses relief printmaking and digital techniques to capture the sense and spirit of Lizzie's story within a setting that's full of light and air. A buoyant book just right for reading aloud.--Phelan, Carolyn Copyright 2016 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

A PICTURE BOOK about looking around is like a song about listening to the radio - what may seem like an easy or even redundant idea becomes, in the right hands, something luminous and perfectly devised. A stack of new books about young people learning to examine the world all strive, with varying approaches, to capture the magic of songs that sing gloriously about themselves. (Roxy Music's "Oh Yeah," I'm looking at you.) "The Branch" is by the prolific author Mireille Messier and even-more-prolific illustrator Pierre Pratt, both from the nation of Canada, where, legend has it, the rich artistic tradition comes from enduring the dark and dangerous winters. The book's unnamed heroine's imagination runs wild in the winter - an early spread finds her dreaming of being aloft in a tree during an icy storm, in full queen regalia, including a crown of icicles, while ordinary (presumably Canadian) citizens are slipping to the ground. In a refreshing reverse from so many picture books, the world of imagination collapses into the everyday, when the storm claims a thick wooden victim. "That was the branch I sat on, jumped from, played under," she mourns. "It was my castle, my spy base, my ship." And for a moment, surrounded by folks cleaning up the neighborhood, she seems quite lost. Help arrives in the form of Deus Ex Next-Door Neighbor, and quicker than you can say "four-page montage," the two of them have looked carefully at the branch and rebuilt it into a swing, which hangs from the surviving branches on the last, brilliant green page. Pratt's slashy thick lines, which make the ice storm so dangerous-looking, are a canopy of spring leaves for the little heroine, whose dead-pan face finally breaks into a smile under the simple last line of text. Messier, alas, often gives us a paragraph when one short line would do, crowding some of the artwork and slowing the pace just when you want it, well, to swing. Nana, the elderly heroine of Simona Ciraolo's "The Lines on Nana's Face," had quite the swinging time back in the day. Now, in advanced age, even when she's happy on her birthday, "it looks like she might also be a bit sad, and a little surprised, and slightly worried, all at the same time." The young narrating granddaughter, bright and squirmy in Ciraolo's loose and colorful style, sits with Nana in her solarium and gets a story to go with each wrinkle on her grandmother's face. The page turns take us back through Nana's life: a rural childhood, teenage frolics, young love, marriage, moving, taking us up to the moment of the grandchild's birth. Some may find the premise a little off-putting - the girl seems old enough to be told not to pry into people's wrinkles - and Nana's life contains few surprises. But the art and the pace sell the journey. Nana and the girl talk in bright close-ups; the flashbacks are wordless full spreads, encouraging us to supply the missing information. "The Branch" suggests that life requires occasional elbow grease; Nana, less excitingly, suggests that life just ends up happening. But what else is there to say, really, at a birthday party? It's also difficult to know what to say about the magnificent Jerry Pinkney, whose every-award-winning impressionistic realism (or is it realistic impressionism?) is both a wildly imitated style and unmistakably his. This time around he's teamed up with Richard Jackson, a long-time editor and publisher of children's literature who began a career writing picture books following his retirement. His first picture book, "Have a Look, Says Book," was loopy with wordplay; "In Plain Sight" is something of a visual treasure hunt. "Sophie lives with Mama and Daddy and Grandpa, who lives by the window," the book begins, and we see Grandpa waving goodbye to Sophie as she boards a school bus aglow with Pinkney's soft yellow. When Sophie gets home from school, the game begins: Grandpa has hidden small everyday objects around the apartment, and Sophie has to find them. "You have to look," he reminds her, and again and again, in plain sight but difficult to spot, are the paper clip, the rubber band ... and eventually, Sophie herself, behind the curtains. Grandpa's wheelchair, omnipresent and unmentioned, is a quiet bit of visibility and the driving force behind a game that keeps you in the same floor of a brownstone all day long. But the book's prime appeal is that it leads you to stare and stare at the work of Jerry Pinkney - one of the great American pastimes. "The Branch" has you look at an object, "The Lines on Nana's Face" has you look at a person, "In Plain Sight" has you look around the room. "A Small Thing ... but Big" has you look around the world - although, when you are the very young Lizzie, the whole world is a little gated park. With an unmentioned mother (or babysitter?) keeping quiet watch on a bench, Lizzie encounters something scary that stops her in her tracks - "She ran close to a dog" - and then, in short conversations with a dapper old man, gets more and more confident. Patting a dog, walking a dog, walking a dog by yourself - each step is "a small thing, but big." It's an audacious theme, risky in its simplicity. But if Tony Johnston gets a little pushy with the title phrase, his care in the quiet repetition, giving words like "worry," "quiet" and "springingly" growing power, makes the text as delicious as a brave afternoon. Hadley Hooper's illustrations - in a breezy, twee territory not far from William Bee and Ed Fotheringham - move us all around the park, zooming in on blades of grass or rising to an aerial view as Lizzie gets bolder and bolder. The world here, as in any good picture book, is wondrous. One only wants to keep looking. DANIEL HANDLER'S new book by Lemony Snicket, "Goldfish Ghost" will be published in the spring.

School Library Journal Review

PreS-Gr 2-What could be a more carefree experience than a trip to the park with one's mother? After exploring, however, Lizzie finds herself face-to-face with a dog-and she freezes. The gentleman at the other end of the leash "timidly" responds to some of her nervous questions and then encourages her to pat Cecile. This "small thing, but big [step]" gradually leads to other brave acts, from holding the leash to walking the dog by herself. Johnston's poetic dialogue is perfectly paced to indicate the paradoxical desire and discomfort experienced by both main characters, as well as their giddy joy upon reaching out ("'She is quite adoring being with you,' the old man said shyly."). Lizzie notes: "How springingly she walks," imitating the dog's movements. By the story's conclusion, the introverted man and child are "aglow." Hooper's relief printmaking and digital designs employ a summery palette with blocks of color, object groupings, and wrought iron grillwork to create depth against spacious white backgrounds. She makes strategic use of the gutters to produce mirror images of girl and dog, each with big grins; short black lines define one head with loose pigtails and another with perky ears. Classical statuary directs attention and adds symbolic meaning; other park encounters reinforce the theme. Hooper establishes a friendly rapport between Lizzie's mother and the gentleman from the beginning to allay stranger concerns. VERDICT This intergenerational tale of kindred spirits facing fears and finding friendship is certain to inspire courage in readers. A sublime read-aloud for small group sharing.-Wendy Lukehart, District of Columbia Public Library © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

A child overcomes her fear of dogsand finds that even small steps forward can be big.At the park, Lizzie happily busies herself chasing butterflies and tiptoeing around the fountains edge, until she realizes shes close to a dog. Wonderfully composed illustrations perfectly place the silhouette of a seemingly large canine in the foreground, while the rosy-cheeked white child is frozen midstep, her anxiety clear. However, gentle Cecile turns out to be a well-mannered (and quite adorable) pooch of small stature. The dogs benevolent owner, a white-bearded older gentleman, also white, encourages Lizzie to pat Cecile, and when she accomplishes this feat, the two recognize that it was A small thing, but big. And so the little girl, with her black hair enchantingly tied up in two topknots, goes from tentatively walking beside Cecile to holding her leash to walking Cecile around the park by herself. This proud moment is delightfully depicted in a spontaneous, simplified drawing style. The artwork, done using linotype prints and digital manipulation in a warm, pastel palette, invites readers to explore the lovely park environment with Lizzie. Parents will also appreciate the artists inclusion of Lizzies mother in various spreads, acknowledging her approval of Lizzies interactions. Johnstons economical text about conquering fears also focuses on finding the good in each dog and in the small actions of all. Hoopers charming illustrations make Lizzies brave walk an absolute delight. (Picture book. 3-8) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.