Big and Small are machines that work together. They’re a team. The best. But every so often Big gets a bit wobbly and this worries Small – a lot. After one such episode, Small calls The Boss and Big is sent to Mechanic to be fixed up. All Big needs is medicine to sort out his malfunctioning computer and then all is well once more. But when Big decides he no longer needs the medicine, disaster strikes and poor Small is in the firing line. While Big is being fixed up yet again, Small forms a friendship with Tich, who also has a machine in his life who gets a bit wobbly. Through this meeting Small learns that it’s not his fault that Big is the way he is, and that with help, Big will get better. Big gets himself sorted and he and Small go back to being the best team ever – most of the time.
Everything about this book is original. This simple story deals with the prickly issue of mental illness in a very clever way. With one in five Australians experiencing some form of mental illness in their lifetime, this subject definitely needs to be addressed. The creative use of font styles and sizes draws attention to what’s important.
But the highlight here would have to be the wonderful 3D paper sculptures that illustrate each page. The bright colours are used to great effect, and the machine characters are incredibly detailed. It’s obvious Miller has put a lot of thought into using well-considered camera angles for the greatest emotional impact. This is a book that children – and adults – will thumb through over and over again, if only to try and figure out how Miller created such imaginative pieces. To infuse paper and card with such depth and personality is truly a gift.
Of course, Miller is no amateur when it comes to illustration and design. He is the artistic genius behind Mem Fox’s, Boo to a Goose, not to mention his own CBC Honour Book, Refugees, and numerous others.
While the age guide has been given as 7+ I see no reason why younger children won’t get something from this title. Preschoolers understand the concept of illness and the need for medication. The similarity between a machine’s mixed-up computer and a human brain isn’t that difficult to grasp.
Big and Me is a pictorial feast, functional and entertaining. What more could picture book readers want?
Jenny Mounfield is the author of two junior novels, Storm Born and The Black Bandit. Her first YA novel, The Ice-cream Man was released in July.