November 2016

Overcoming fears with small steps

By Tony Johnston, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
Review by
In this sweet and sincere story of facing fears, readers meet a young girl and an elderly man—both with anxieties to overcome.
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In this sweet and sincere story of facing fears, readers meet a young girl and an elderly man—both with anxieties to overcome.

Young Lizzie heads to the park with her mother. On their way in, the mother waves to an elderly man, spiffily dressed. He has a dog on a leash. Lizzie runs and plays—but freezes when she runs near the man’s dog. The man eases her worries by answering Lizzie’s questions (“Does she bite?”), and bit by bit Lizzie warms to the dog, named Cecile. When she pets Cecile on the head, something she never would have done prior to meeting the man in the park, he tells her it’s “a small thing, but big” to master a fear like that. 

Eventually, with her mother close by, Lizzie holds Cecile’s leash and walks her around the park. “All dogs are good if you give them a chance,” the man tells her. All the while, he reminds her of the fact that she is conquering monumental fears that may seem, on the surface, to be minor. Such is childhood after all, and author Tony Johnston is never patronizing about it. She is the omniscient narrator, watching in wonder and describing what she sees: “Hesitant at first, then springingly, oh springingly,” Lizzie walks the dog around the park for the first time. 

Illustrator Hadley Hooper, using a combination of relief printing and digital editing, brings the park and its visitors to life with warm greens, blues and rust colors. By giving the young girl a mustard plaid skirt and the man a mustard plaid jacket, they are immediately linked in the reader’s vision, two people destined to be friends. Never crowding a spread, Hooper lets the illustrations breathe, as if readers could jump in and take a walk with the trio. 

In the end, the man tells Lizzie that he was once “very afraid of children.” Whether or not he is kidding is up for debate, but either way, readers will enjoy his journey around the park with his best friend, Cecile—and his new friend, Lizzie.


Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.

This article was originally published in the November 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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A Small Thing . . . but Big

A Small Thing . . . but Big

By Tony Johnston, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
Roaring Brook
ISBN 9781626722569

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