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When You Were Small
by Sara O'Leary
Illustrated by Julie Morstad
AGES: 4 to 8
SIZE: 7" x 10"
RIGHTS: World except South Korea and Mexico
PRICES: Hardcover: $16.95 US, Higher in Canada
Paperback: $8.99 US, $11.99 Cdn
HARDCOVER: 9781894965361
PAPERBACK: 9781772290080

Chosen as one of the "100 Best Canadian Kids' Books of All Time" by Today's Parent!


Featured in Wondertime's December/January 08-09 Stuff We Love Gift Guide!


Publishers Weekly:

O’Leary’s debut features a robin’s-egg blue cover and a retrospective title that recalls Milne’s When We Were Very Young. Morstad’s slightly clumsy ink drawings and drop caps, daintily tinted with watercolor and airy with negative space, update the work to somewhere nearer mid-century; with its large format and minimal color, this paper-over-board book could have been published in 1960 as easily as today, and homespun sketches of a wooden ruler and old-fashioned bathroom supplies only compound the anachronism. The narrative itself cultivates an apprciate for the absurd…As in Stuart Little, a sepia-tinted image of tiny Henry with his full-size parents sets the scale. This sequence posits a straight-faced game of hyperbole that may well please children of many generations.

A Fuse #8 Production:

Review of the Day

Not all small publishers are good, after all, and not all of their books read-worthy. Simply Read Books is different, thought, and When You Were Small, is infinitely read-worthy. An unassuming title with a charming presence, great use of wry commentary, and some really outstanding pen and ink illustrations. When You Were Small reminds us all that sometimes the smallest publishers are the ones who find the best new talent around…Using the thinnest of pen lines in a wide variety of colors (subdued, for the most part) the book feels almost like a foreign import. We rarely see such delicate perfectly rendered pictures in our American bookstores and libraries. There’s a picture of Henry standing astride a beautifully penned cat. Every hair of that cat is meticulously placed, making it my favorite image in When You Were Small. I should mention that the book conveys a great deal of love without artifice or false sentiment. Some of this you might be able to chalk up to the simplicity of the book’s design itself. Publication information is in tiny type at the bottom of a single page. There is no information about either the author nor illustrator nor even a dedication section. The book also hasn’t any book jacket, giving it a rather classic feel. All in all, this is one of the lovelier picture book creations I’ve had the pleasure of reading in a long time. A quiet, intelligent rather sweet read in a style that everyone can enjoy.

Recommended with honors

School Library Journal:

PreSchool-Grade 3–Each night, Henry asks his dad to tell him about when he was small, and his father relates how very small he really was: …we used to give you baths in the teapot…, and …we took the toy castle out of the aquarium and you were king of it. This is obviously an enjoyable nighttime ritual and it always ends with the child asking, 'Dad, is all that true?' 'Well,' says his dad, 'don't you remember?' The minimal text is accompanied by delicate illustrations. Subtle coloring and ample white space add to the book's tranquil feel. A lovely title to share one-on-one, and sure to start many family rituals.

–Wendy Woodfill, Hennepin County Library, Minnetonka, MN



Whimsical, crosshatched line illustrations, washed with gently shadowed colors, appear to float on white pages, pairing a single, evocative picture with each fantastical memory. Packaged without a jacket and sporting an elegant cloth spine, this looks different from most picture books on the market—and the story’s delightful sensibility bears out initial impressions.

– GraceAnne A. Decandido

The Montreal Gazette:

Extraordinary Boy Delights in Tall Tales

Montreal author Sara O’Leary’s brief text is perfectly matched by the scratchy line art of Vancouver’s Julie Morstad. Together, they’ll spark any youngster’s imagination.

– Bernie Goedhart

Northshire Bookstore Reviews:

When You Were Small is spare and imbued with a dreamlike quality. As a young boy attempts to put off the inevitability of bedtime he asks his father to tell him tales of when he was “small.” The ensuring account is told with great charm and imagination. A gentle tale perfectly suited for bedtime.

– Jessica Wood


Runcible Review:

Every night young Henry prompts his father: “Tell me about when I was small.” From there the magic and delight ensue. Henry hears of the pet ant he used to walk on a leash, bath times in the teapot, his shifting role as chessboard knight to king of the aquarium castle, and so much more. Each page is filled with fun and wonderment that opens the imagination to explore just how small is ‘small’.


I first came across When You Were Small in 2007 when I was doing a study on ‘truth-telling’ in children’s literature. I went into my local children’s bookstore and asked the bookseller if she could recommend anything that would add to my study. Right away she walked over to the shelf, picked up a copy of When You Were Small, and said: “This might interest you.”

At first glance I thought I was handed a ‘vintage’ title, something circa Pat the Bunny (1940). Yet the delightful classic-looking pen and ink sketches were done by Vancouver-based artist, Julie Morstad, and the book was relatively recent, released in January 2006. (Sara O’Leary and Julie Morstad have since worked on a number of titles together).


The bookseller was right. When You Were Small was particularly relevant to my study. After hearing about when he was little, about how he used to sleep in a slipper and so on, Henry questions his father: “Dad, is all that true?” To which his father responds: “Well… don’t you remember?” Oooh! I just love it! I’m a sucker for stories that so effectively blend the realms of reality and imagination, and that so brilliantly incorporate (or call into question!) memory. That one closing question, and all the open-ended possibilities it provides, leaves the reader/listener in sheer wonder.


Far beyond my initial academic approach, this book has woven its way into my family. My children, now five and eight, appreciate it as much as I do and often ask for it. After each reading we are drawn into our own stories of “When you were small…” telling tales of both real-to-life  memories and fantastical fictions. We reminisce, we make-believe, and we laugh. So perfect!


I absolutely adore this picture book and I recommend it as a must-have.


Happy 10th birthday, When You Were Small!

~ K.C. Darling

Little Fugue:

This exquisite children’s book, which invites children to imagine they were once little enough to ride on the back of the family cat, take baths in a teapot, and use a wood rular for a toboggan, is the kind of book I would have saved on my shelf long after my children had grown. Julie Morstad’s elegant illustrations are spare pen-and-ink drawings colored with a soft watercolor wash. Like many great children’s books, this one is worth collecting.

– Kimberly Green

ForeWord Reviews:

Children as young as three will enjoy the tales of Henry’s adventures, in which begin miniscule means that the most mundane tasks like brushing teeth or eating porridge become veritable feats…The last lines of this book may also spark conversations between adult and child: a question is cleverly answered with a question. “Dad,” says Henry, “is all that true?” His dad replies, “Well, don’t you remember?” Henry is left scratching his head, as might the young readers (or listeners) who will continue to ponder being so small that they can ride on the back of the cat like an emperor.

– Cymbre Foster

Can’t Stop Reading:

When You Were Small is a gorgeously old fashioned book. Every night, Henry asks his father to tell him about when he was small. Henry’s dad has a bit of a sense of humor, and all the anecdotes he relates involve a very small Henry indeed…Julie Morstad’s charming line illustrations fit so nicely in with author Sara O’Leary’s text that I truly cannot imagine a better pairing.

McNally Robinson Bookstore:

 Cuddle up with your little one and share this wonderful new picture book.

– Carry Dueck, Manager of McNally Robinson for Kids in Saskatoon

The Georgia Straight:

Sara O’Leary, a books columnist for the Vancouver Sun, has crafted a delightful ode to the imagination with When You Were Small. A father reminisces about his son’s early childhood, and if his son doesn’t remember that “When you were small we used to give you baths in the teapot, and when you were done we could just tip it over and pour you out,” well, what can you expect from kids, anyway? Julie Morstad’s delicate, muted illustrations perfectly completment O’Leary’s whimsy. This handsome title showcases Vancouver’s Simply Read Books doing what it does best: simple story, lush pictures, perfect package.

– John Burns


CM Magazine:

Julie Morstad provides the illustrations to accompany O’Leary’s concise text. Like the text, there is charm in the illustration’s simplicity. It takes talent to make complex things seem simple, and both O’Learly and Morstad succeed in this regard.


Like me, you will enjoy sharing this book with the young readers in your life. This is a fun book that will free the imagianation and set you on a path toward thinking of what life might have been life when YOU were small.

- Gregory Bryan


Go-go News:

Sara O’Leary’s When You Were Small is a charming and comical picture book about a boy named Henry who, before bed, always asks his father to tell him about when he was small. And every night, Henry’s father tells him something new about just how little he was – from how Henry’s father and mother had to bathe him in a teapot, to how he had a pet ant. The whimsical images work nicely with such a fantastical and magical story, bringing the silly memories to life. When You Were Small is both enchanting and comic with the ridiculous tales that Henry’s father makes up. The tales are fascinating to Henry despite their absurdity because there is an entire period of a child’s life that they can’t remember. So for all Henry knows, his dad is telling the truth.


Illustrated Forest:

We’ve all been there, a small child asks us the simplest of questions: what was I like when I was small?  And searching through the infinity of answers, or having exhausted them all, we hit upon something so wondrous that the child is immediately mesmerised in disbelief. Children love to hear stories about themselves and the more fantastical the better. When You Were Small is a collection of some of the finest.


Each left hand page features Sara O’Leary’s simple, imaginative and super sweet text, whilst the right has an accompanying illustration by the wonderful Julie Morstad.  O’Leary and Morstad compliment each other beautifully, neither one vying for attention, and this is perhaps why they work together so often: because they work so well together.  The text, which could have felt flippant and dismissive in the wrong hands, feels caring and warm: it is affectionate and perfectly encapsulates the loving relationship between adult and child.


A beautifully bound, hardback edition and one for the sentimentalists, this is a sweet book full of the tall tales we tell our kids.  Perfect to read at bedtime, no doubt with a captive audience who will immediately inquire: what was I like when I was small?  Parents, have your answers at the ready.