Helen Stephens


It is the night of the Grand Ball at Small Hall (which does not live up to its name, and is in fact huge!), with a grand ball, but Sally and Paul Small are too little and therefore must remain in their rooms while everybody else is having fun. But when Paul’s teddy goes astray, the children have no choice but sneak into the party in their quest for the much-loved bear. But they unknowingly wreak havoc on the way.

In the best tradition of many classic stories where children take the lead in all the action and are barely, if at all, supervised, The Big Adventure of The Smalls is a delightful tale of two siblings who are not quite ready to go to sleep when expected to. Helen Stephens’ style itself is reminiscent of times long past: one can spot of a little bit of Ardizzone, a little bit of Sempé (even though he worked mainly in black and white, there is just a little je ne sais quoi which reminds me of his work), with a touch of the cheekiness of Bemelmans’ Madeline in her drawings. But I also love her very own way of drawing soft yet very expressive features on her characters, as well as the way she uses space in her spreads. Her artwork is lavishly coloured, with a very clever some colours, such the wonderful use of yellow that help convey light so effectively. All together, they help express the overall atmosphere of the evening party in the grand house, and how attractive this might be to the children.

The Big Adventure of The Smalls offers an interesting take on little children resisting bedtime. Sally and Paul are shown to embrace this, and use the opportunity to spy on the grown-ups’ party going on downstairs (let’s be honest, we have all done it at some point!). All sorts of shenanigans ensue, as the children are forced to crash the party to rescue the teddy that Paul has dropped from the top of the stairs. The humorous tone of the tale comes not only from their antics but also from the fact that the children are convinced that they have remained unnoticed. But with all their acrobatics and, literally, swinging from chandeliers, it is not hard to see why their audience grow as they continue on their quest. But this only shown through the artwork and this is will make it all the more delightful for little readers.
This book therefore offers an interesting bedtime story, as overactive toddlers and preschools are often encouraged to curb their enthusiasm at this time. Nothing wrong with a bit of reverse psychology, and The Big Adventure of The Smalls is such a fun, gorgeous-looking book that little bedtime renegades will undoubtedly ask for it again, and again.

All illustrations © Helen Stephens

Many thanks to Egmont Books for providing a review copy of “The Big Adventure of The Smalls”

Be sure to come back tomorrow to discover Helen Stephens’ Fabulous Five on a very special theme.