Something Big

16 December 2022

Something Big
by Jenna and Avery Wasylkowski, Illustrated by A.E. Matheson
Published by aemworks Publishing
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$11.95 ISBN 9-78177-980702

Illustrator/publisher A.E. Matheson has done something big. She’s teamed whimsical illustrations and a fanciful conversation lifted from “real-life” (I’m assuming, as the front cover declares the story’s a “conversation” between Jenna and Avery Wasylkowski), and created a delightful—and most unusual!—Christmas-related story that spotlights childhood imagination and belief.

I hadn’t even reached the first page of text before I was mesmerized: the book opens with a two-page, full-bleed spread of a green dragon with translucent wings chained to charcoal-coloured boulders. His eyelids are heavy, smoke vapours from wide nostrils, and one of his three grey horns appears like a party hat atop his fringy head. This well-crafted image inspires curiosity: what exactly is this clawed creature?

Turn the page, and one enters a completely different scene: a realistic family breakfast with a mother, father and son around a kitchen table. Here, too, I’m slow to flip the page, even though the opening text’s compelling: “So? Any thoughts on what you’re asking Santa for Christmas?” (We don’t know which parent’s asking this question, and this interesting lack of attribution’s another trait that sets this children’s story apart.) The boy responds: “Yup!—I want a dragon.”

The illustrator’s attention to realistic details and generous use of colour draw me into the image: Dad’s reading the weather forecast (-15 and sunny) on a tablet; Mom’s in a housecoat; the salt and pepper shakers are half full; beyond the window above the gold-piped radiator, it’s winter-morning dark; and there’s a design etched into the backs of the wooden chairs. All of these specifics cleverly demonstrate that the illustrator is telling this story along with the co-writers/conversationalists.

Turn another page and there’s the dragon again—it’s also featured on the glossy cover—and the child announcing that it’s not a pretend dragon he’s interested in, he wants “a real scaly, pointy, fire breathing dragon.” Even the cat on top of the fridge looks surprised at this response. As the story continues, the mother asks logical questions, ie: “How in the world will Santa fit that in the sled?” and “What will this dragon eat?” There are even a few funny pages about the dragon’s “poop,” and a corresponding illustration shows dad using a driveable snowplow to scoop the huge pile of dung. The child has a fun answer to each question, ie: the dragon “eats stars and there are lots of stars. And stop calling him dragon—his name is Torchy—without an ‘e.’” Again and again, the child “outsmarts” his rabbit-slippered mother as he gets dressed and prepares to go to school.

No bio notes are included with this book, so I consulted to learn more about the illustrator/publisher. This “self-taught book person of all trades” has collaborated with several prominent Saskatchewan writers, including Alison Lohans and David Carpenter. Matheson works in an academic library, and has “written, illustrated, designed, published, and hand bound, many books.”

Something Big is a merry, welcome addition to the more traditional slate of children’s Christmas-season stories.


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