Stitches

Overview

The #1 New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist that "breaks new ground for graphic novels" (Francois Mouly, art editor, The New Yorker).
David Small, a best-selling and highly regarded children's book illustrator, comes forward with this unflinching graphic memoir. Remarkable and intensely dramatic, Stitches tells the story of a fourteen-year-old boy who awakes one day from a supposedly harmless operation to discover that he has been transformed into a virtual...

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Overview

The #1 New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist that "breaks new ground for graphic novels" (Francois Mouly, art editor, The New Yorker).
David Small, a best-selling and highly regarded children's book illustrator, comes forward with this unflinching graphic memoir. Remarkable and intensely dramatic, Stitches tells the story of a fourteen-year-old boy who awakes one day from a supposedly harmless operation to discover that he has been transformed into a virtual mute—a vocal cord removed, his throat slashed and stitched together like a bloody boot. From horror to hope, Small proceeds to graphically portray an almost unbelievable descent into adolescent hell and the difficult road to physical, emotional, and artistic recovery.
A National Book Award finalist; winner of the ALA's Alex Award; a #1 New York Times graphic bestseller; Publishers Weekly and Washington Post Top Ten Books of the Year, Los Angeles Times Favorite Book, ALA Great Graphic Novels, Booklist Editors Choice Award, Huffington Post Great Books of 2009, Kirkus Reviews Best of 2009, Village Voice Best Graphic Novel, finalist for two 2010 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards (Best Writer/Artist: Nonfiction; Best Reality-Based Work).

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This graphic memoir by Caldecott Medal-winning children's book author/illustrator David Small is singular. So singular that we will leave its description to his fellow artist, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer: "Like the boy in this autobiographical novel my first reading of Stitches left me speechless. And in awe. David Small presents us with a profound and moving gift of graphic literature that has the look of a movie and reads like a poem. Spare in words, painful in pictures, Small, in a style of dry menace, draws us a boy's life that you wouldn't want to live but you can't put down. From its first line four pages in, 'Mama had her little cough,' we know that we are in the hands of a master."
Miami Herald
“A breathtaking, horrific, and ultimately redemptive work.”
Washington Post
“Small . . . employs angled shots and silent montages worthy of Alfred Hitchcock.”
Jules Feiffer
“A profound and moving gift of graphic literature that has the look of a movie and reads like a poem.”
Library Journal
★ 06/01/2014
Small's powerful memoir traces his life from childhood to adulthood but focuses on his teenage years, when a growth on his neck revealed not just an illness in David but severe failings on the part of his parents. In a work that's both deeply sad and cathartic, Small's heroism resides in his role as historian of the agonies of youth. (LJ 7/09)
Michael Sims
…brilliant and heartbreaking…Although the dialogue and narration are well written and moving, Small often shows us the story without a word of speech or commentary—not just for a few panels but for several pages at a time. He employs angled shots and silent montages worthy of Alfred Hitchcock. Revelations trigger haunting flashbacks in which we see an earlier scene from a new point of view. Small's drawing is masterful and evocative…think of Daniel Clowes's Ghost World or Megan Kelso's Squirrel Mother stories or Art Spiegelman's Maus. Now, to the list of powerful works of art in this versatile medium, we can add the horrific but ultimately redemptive Stitches.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In this profound and moving memoir, Small, an award-winning children's book illustrator, uses his drawings to depict the consciousness of a young boy. The story starts when the narrator is six years old and follows him into adulthood, with most of the story spent during his early adolescence. The youngest member of a silent and unhappy family, David is subjected to repeated x-rays to monitor sinus problems. When he develops cancer as a result of this procedure, he is operated on without being told what is wrong with him. The operation results in the loss of his voice, cutting him off even further from the world around him. Small's black and white pen and ink drawings are endlessly perceptive as they portray the layering of dream and imagination onto the real-life experiences of the young boy. Small's intuitive morphing of images, as with the terrible postsurgery scar on the main character's throat that becomes a dark staircase climbed by his mother, provide deep emotional echoes. Some understanding is gained as family secrets are unearthed, but for the most part David fends for himself in a family that is uncommunicative to a truly ghastly degree. Small tells his story with haunting subtlety and power. (Sept.)
VOYA - Timothy Capehart
Caldecott winning artist Small relates the harrowing story of his childhood from ages six to sixteen under the less-than-watchful eye of his coolly distant father and his emotionally abusive mother. At six, he endures physical abuse from his deranged maternal grandmother. At eleven, as a "cyst" appears on his neck, his parents ignore his medical problems, burn his books, and focus on their own needs. At fourteen, he believes he is entering the hospital for the easy removal of the neglected "cyst," but leaves without one of his vocal folds or the ability to speak above a croak. After discovering he had cancer thanks to frequent x-rays by his radiologist father aimed at curing his sinus problems, David's attitude gets him sent to a boarding school. Later sessions with a psychiatrist only lead him to leave home before he is done with high school. Small's first title for much older audiences is sequential art at its most effective and affecting. The ink wash panels with some full-bleed illustrations expertly convey first his innocence and confusion and then his horror and anger. Although the ending offers a redemptive glimmer of forgiveness, readers may find it as difficult to take that final step as it is to put this one down before the final pages turn. This one definitely takes its place on the shelf next to Alison Bechdel's Fun Home (Houghton Mifflin, 2008). Reviewer: Timothy Capehart
School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up–Small is best known for his picture-book illustration. Here he tells the decidedly grim but far from unique story of his own childhood. Many teens will identify with the rigors of growing up in a household of angry silences, selfish parents, feelings of personal weakness, and secret lives. Small shows himself to be an excellent storyteller here, developing the cast of characters as they appeared to him during this period of his life, while ending with the reminder that his parents and brother probably had very different takes on these same events. The title derives from throat surgery Small underwent at 14, which left him, for several years, literally voiceless. Both the visual and rhetorical metaphors throughout will have high appeal to teen sensibilities. The shaded artwork, composed mostly of ink washes, is both evocative and beautifully detailed. A fine example of the growing genre of graphic-novel memoirs.–Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia
Kirkus Reviews
Emotionally raw, artistically compelling and psychologically devastating graphic memoir of childhood trauma. An award-winning illustrator of children's books (That Book Woman, 2008, etc.), Small narrates this memoir from various perspectives of his boyhood in the 1950s. He considered his radiologist father one of the "soldiers of science, and their weapon was the X-ray . . . They were miraculous wonder rays that would cure anything." Or so it seemed to a young boy who realized early on that his family was what now would be labeled "dysfunctional." His mother was cold, neurotic and acquisitive, with little love for either her spouse or their children. His older brother had little use for or contact with his younger sibling. His father was barely a presence in the household. The author was chronically ill, with treatment prescribed by his father, including X-rays. When Small was ten, he developed a growth on his neck that his parents were too preoccupied to have diagnosed, though friends of the family urged them to. It wasn't until after he turned 14 that he finally underwent surgery for what was initially considered a harmless cyst but turned out to be a cancerous tumor. A second surgery left him with only one vocal cord, all but voiceless as well as disfigured. Terse and unsentimental throughout, the narration becomes even sparer once the author loses his voice, with page after wordless page filled with stark imagery. Yet the intensity of the artistry reveals how he has been screaming inside, with nightmares that never fully abate when he is awake. Psychological therapy helps him come to terms with his condition, as does his precocious artistry. While the existence of this suggestssomewhat of a happy ending, the reader will find forgiving and forgetting as hard as the author has. Graphic narrative at its most cathartic. Author tour to New York, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Denver, Minneapolis, Ann Arbor, Mich., Kalamazoo, Mich., Boston. Agent: Holly McGhee/Pippin Properties
The Barnes & Noble Review
A stitch in time can save nine, but Caldecott-winning children's book author David Small's unloving parents spared him not a one, as Stitches, his graphic memoir of his harrowing childhood, makes clear. Small was a sickly child, and his radiologist father subjected him to repeated X-rays, believing it would cure his sinus problems. When a lump materialized on his neck, his mother complained about the expense and put off surgery for three years. Small emerged from multiple operations at 14 unable to speak, and only learned later that he'd had cancer. Like Alison Bechdel's genre-bending Fun Home, Stitches melds ink-washed drawings and incisive captions to tell Small's devastating story about growing up in a silent, angry household with miserable parents. With its menacing, child's-eye view of Detroit smokestacks, hospital corridors, and scowling, bespectacled adult faces looming up close, Stitches reads like a silent horror movie. Communication in the Small household was nonverbal: "Mama had her little cough," he opens, which augured her unexplained rages. His father "thumped a punching bag. That was his language." His older brother, who grew up to become a percussionist with the Colorado Symphony, beat his drum. And little David, "born anxious and angry," got sick. David is saved by a wonderful psychiatrist, depicted as Lewis Carroll's White Rabbit, who helps defang his nightmares -- including his parents -- and makes him realize that drawings are his language. Small writes, "Art became my home. Not only did it give me back my voice, but art has given me everything I have wanted or needed since." Stitches leaves the reader speechless -- stunned at its power and perfect pitch. --Heller McAlpin
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393338966
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/13/2010
  • Pages: 329
  • Sales rank: 106,724
  • Product dimensions: 6.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

David Small is the recipient of the Caldecott Medal, the Christopher Medal, and the E. B. White Award for his picture books, which include Imogene’s Antlers, The Gardener, and So, You Want to Be President? He and his wife, the writer Sarah Stewart, live in Michigan.

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Foreword

1. Stitches is the story of one man's attempt to understand and reclaim his past. How is the act of remembering - and memory itself - handled in the book? Discuss the effectiveness of the transitions between the book's "chapters."

2. Early on, David Small describes how each member of his family had his or her own "language." What does each family member's language reveal about them? How does David's "language" change over the course of the book? 

3. Discuss the theme of silence. Which silences are forced, and which are self-imposed? Did you feel there were moments when Small's perceptive depictions of body language, facial expression, and suppressed emotion spoke more powerfully than words could have? What are the consequences when characters do speak up to tell the truth?

4. During the editing process, Small tried to "get rid of as many words as possible. That's what the book is about - not being able to speak feelings, and being kept silent." But he was also interested in the role language plays in a "largely wordless book." What are the repercussions of young David's use of the words ain't (p88) and crazy (p101)? Are there other highly charged words in the book? What significance do such sounds as Whap! and Kkrraackk! have in the story?

5. How would you describe the role that art and the imagination play in the book? Which images spoke most powerfully to you about the importance of art in David's life? How does young David's retreat into his imagination compare with how his parents deal with reality?

6. Discuss the significance of the fairy tales, daydreams, and nightmares that appear in thebook.

7. In conceiving of the approach he would use to tell his story, Small was inspired by favourite filmmakers who could "tell a story visually, directly, simply, and, preferably, in black and white. Colour, they knew, often confused the issue." How might your experience of reading Stitches have been different if the book was in colour? Are there particular images that could only have been drawn in black and white? Do you agree or disagree with Small's comment that colour can "confuse the issue"? Which images have stayed with you most?

8. One of Small's visual influences for Stitches were the early films of Michelangelo Antonioni, who is known for the way he uses architectural and landscape shots to reflect his characters' inner lives. What do Small's depictions of architecture and landscape reveal about his characters?

9. Stitches has been widely praised for its "cinematic" style. Consider the extended wordless sequence where young David is roaming the halls of the hospital. How does Small control the tension within and pacing of this section? How do you think a familiarity with the visual language of movies affected your reading of the book? Did Stitches call to mind other movies you have seen?

10. Small uses a variety of drawing styles throughout the book, ranging from the realistic to the cartoonish (pp68-69), to the abstract and expressive (pp180-181). How are these and other shifts in style revealing of young David's state of mind?

11. As a child, David falls in love with Alice in Wonderland - in particular, Alice's ability to travel to a magical land (p56). In the original story, it is while Alice is chasing after the White Rabbit that she unwittingly falls down a rabbit hole into Wonderland, an upside-down world where nonsense and confusion prevail. Consider how images of things falling and things inverted appear again and again in Stitches. What are some of the other ways in which Small alludes to Alice in Wonderland? Why do you think Small chose to portray his psychiatrist as the White Rabbit?

12. Consider the "mirrored" images that appear on the following pages: 192-193, 215-216, 294-295. How did Small's decision to pair these images together add to your appreciation of one or both of the images? Can you point to other examples of repeating images and/or scenes?

13. On p.174, there is a split image showing David and his mother as opposite sides of the same face. Discuss the significance of this image, especially in light of the dream that David has toward the end of the book.

14. The publication of Stitches has already had a profound impact on David Small's own life. After Small was encouraged to share an early copy of the book with his brother, from whom he had been estranged for many decades, the two men started talking again, brought together by a shared recognition of the troubled childhood they had both lived through. Discuss the reconciliations of a sort that occur within the book.

15. "Nobody heard her tears; the heart is a fountain of weeping water which makes no noise in the world." Why do you think Small is reminded of this line when he thinks of his mother at the end of the book?

16. What is the significance of the book's title? An earlier title for the book was Burning Down the House. What might be some of the reasons why this title was not used?

17. One early reader had this to say about the book: "If you have ever questioned whether graphic novels can be as poignant and powerful as traditional novels or memoirs, Stitches proves that they can. In fact, I don't think David Small's memoir could be told as powerfully in any other format." Do you agree or disagree? Why do you think the book has been called a "gateway book" to the graphic narrative form? Has Stitches changed the way you think of graphic narratives? Will you be recommending Stitches to friends?

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Reading Group Guide

1. Stitches is the story of one man's attempt to understand and reclaim his past. How is the act of remembering - and memory itself - handled in the book? Discuss the effectiveness of the transitions between the book's "chapters."

2. Early on, David Small describes how each member of his family had his or her own "language." What does each family member's language reveal about them? How does David's "language" change over the course of the book? 

3. Discuss the theme of silence. Which silences are forced, and which are self-imposed? Did you feel there were moments when Small's perceptive depictions of body language, facial expression, and suppressed emotion spoke more powerfully than words could have? What are the consequences when characters do speak up to tell the truth?

4. During the editing process, Small tried to "get rid of as many words as possible. That's what the book is about - not being able to speak feelings, and being kept silent." But he was also interested in the role language plays in a "largely wordless book." What are the repercussions of young David's use of the words ain't (p88) and crazy (p101)? Are there other highly charged words in the book? What significance do such sounds as Whap! and Kkrraackk! have in the story?

5. How would you describe the role that art and the imagination play in the book? Which images spoke most powerfully to you about the importance of art in David's life? How does young David's retreat into his imagination compare with how his parents deal with reality?

6. Discuss the significance of the fairy tales, daydreams, and nightmares that appear in the book.

7. Inconceiving of the approach he would use to tell his story, Small was inspired by favourite filmmakers who could "tell a story visually, directly, simply, and, preferably, in black and white. Colour, they knew, often confused the issue." How might your experience of reading Stitches have been different if the book was in colour? Are there particular images that could only have been drawn in black and white? Do you agree or disagree with Small's comment that colour can "confuse the issue"? Which images have stayed with you most?

8. One of Small's visual influences for Stitches were the early films of Michelangelo Antonioni, who is known for the way he uses architectural and landscape shots to reflect his characters' inner lives. What do Small's depictions of architecture and landscape reveal about his characters?

9. Stitches has been widely praised for its "cinematic" style. Consider the extended wordless sequence where young David is roaming the halls of the hospital. How does Small control the tension within and pacing of this section? How do you think a familiarity with the visual language of movies affected your reading of the book? Did Stitches call to mind other movies you have seen?

10. Small uses a variety of drawing styles throughout the book, ranging from the realistic to the cartoonish (pp68-69), to the abstract and expressive (pp180-181). How are these and other shifts in style revealing of young David's state of mind?

11. As a child, David falls in love with Alice in Wonderland - in particular, Alice's ability to travel to a magical land (p56). In the original story, it is while Alice is chasing after the White Rabbit that she unwittingly falls down a rabbit hole into Wonderland, an upside-down world where nonsense and confusion prevail. Consider how images of things falling and things inverted appear again and again in Stitches. What are some of the other ways in which Small alludes to Alice in Wonderland? Why do you think Small chose to portray his psychiatrist as the White Rabbit?

12. Consider the "mirrored" images that appear on the following pages: 192-193, 215-216, 294-295. How did Small's decision to pair these images together add to your appreciation of one or both of the images? Can you point to other examples of repeating images and/or scenes?

13. On p.174, there is a split image showing David and his mother as opposite sides of the same face. Discuss the significance of this image, especially in light of the dream that David has toward the end of the book.

14. The publication of Stitches has already had a profound impact on David Small's own life. After Small was encouraged to share an early copy of the book with his brother, from whom he had been estranged for many decades, the two men started talking again, brought together by a shared recognition of the troubled childhood they had both lived through. Discuss the reconciliations of a sort that occur within the book.

15. "Nobody heard her tears; the heart is a fountain of weeping water which makes no noise in the world." Why do you think Small is reminded of this line when he thinks of his mother at the end of the book?

16. What is the significance of the book's title? An earlier title for the book was Burning Down the House. What might be some of the reasons why this title was not used?

17. One early reader had this to say about the book: "If you have ever questioned whether graphic novels can be as poignant and powerful as traditional novels or memoirs, Stitches proves that they can. In fact, I don't think David Small's memoir could be told as powerfully in any other format." Do you agree or disagree? Why do you think the book has been called a "gateway book" to the graphic narrative form? Has Stitches changed the way you think of graphic narratives? Will you be recommending Stitches to friends?

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2011

    Good, intense book easy to read

    It was a very good book the pictures described a lot but the words described more. Smalls really didnt have the best of luck and it shows things can always get worst but there is always somewhere you can go or something you can do to get away from things. If you have an extra hour and a half of your time you should read this.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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