David Small and Sarah Stewart have talents and interests that complement each other. That works out well for the married couple, who collaborate on children’s books.
Both say they have always had a passion for books and telling stories.
“I loved to write as a kid. I had a reading nook in my house and pretended to write songs and stories,” Stewart says. Her husband, who studied and taught art before becoming a full-time illustrator, has illustrated all of her books, including “Money Tree,” “The Library” and “The Gardener,” a Caldecott Honor Book.
The couple’s latest release, “This Book of Mine” is a picture book for all ages that is a celebration of the power of reading, of the ways in which books launch our adventures, give us comfort, challenge our imaginations and offer us connection.
Small and Stewart will read and sign copies of “This Book of Mine” on Sunday, Sept. 22, at Book Beat bookstore, 26010 Greenfield Oak Park.
The idea for “This Book of Mine” came from years of Stewart observing people reading — especially children — while traveling on numerous book tours with her husband.
“Every child is different in approaching a book when they are very young — 3 or 4 years old,” Stewart says. “Some (children’s) reactions range from independently hilarious to dangerous with first books. They try to eat them or put them up to their faces to read them.”
Small and Stewart say the book is a tribute to reading and enjoying books. Small says he put his own love of reading into the illustrations throughout its pages.
Small was born and raised in Detroit. He became interested in illustration in college, where he majored in art. He went on to get his MFA at the Yale Graduate School of Art, then taught drawing and printing for many years on the college level, ran a film series and made satirical sketches for campus newspapers.
Later, he started illustrating picture books, as well as drawing for The New Yorker and The New York Times. He wrote and illustrated his first picture book, “Eulalie and the Hopping Head,” which was published in 1981 after he submitted it to more than 20 publishers, according to his biography on the Michigan Library Association website.
“I had no idea I would have a career in books until I had worked on about five books,” Small says, noting his 1985 book, “‘Imogene’s Antlers’ was the start of my career.”
After Small won the 2001 Caldecott Medal for “So, You Want To Be President?” written by Judith St. George, he shifted his career and focused solely on books and left editorial cartooning. He has worked on more than 50 picture books over the span of his career.
Stewart grew up in Corpus Cristi, Texas, and studied Latin and philosophy at a number of colleges and universities. She has been a teacher, speechwriter and an ombudsman.
She has edited copy for The Texas Observer and reviewed children’s books for The New York Times. In 2007, Stewart received the Michigan Authors Award, which the Michigan Library Association grants to an author for an outstanding body of work. Small received the same honor in 2015.
When reviewing other people’s work, Stewart says, “I forget everything I’ve done and look at it as a reader. I focus on the work and lose myself in my work.”
The married couple live and work in their big, old house built off the St. Joseph River in Southwest Detroit in 1833 by a French trader. Small enjoys working in the farmhouse studio behind the house, and Stewart works in the traveler’s room of the main house, which has large windows that look out onto the river.
When they aren’t working, they have their heads in good books. Small says he tends to be a pickier reader, and enjoys reading fiction. Stewart prefers to read philosophy and ethics, classical poetry and contemporary essays that focus on the environment.
As far as their writing process goes, Stewart says she always walks around with ideas for books in her head before she can put them down on paper. She writes every day to keep the words flowing, while Small works by filling the walls of the studio with the artwork he is focusing on for a current project. Both suggest that aspiring writers should read widely and deeply every day.
“It makes a difference when trying to brainstorm ideas for a book,” Stewart says.
Small’s next project is a sequel to “Imogene’s Antlers,” which is slated for release in 2020.
• David Small and Sarah Stewart will greet fans and read and sign copies of “This Book of Mine” from 3-5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at Book Beat bookstore, 26010 Greenfield Oak Park. For more information, visit thebookbeat.com.