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Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E.…

Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings (edition 2015)

by Matthew Burgess, Kris Di Giacomo (Illustrator)

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1528116,047 (4.36)5
Title:Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings
Authors:Matthew Burgess
Other authors:Kris Di Giacomo (Illustrator)
Info:Enchanted Lion Books (2015), Hardcover, 64 pages
Collections:Your library

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Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess



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Edward Estlin Cummings was born on October 14, 1894 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He made up his first poem when he was three. His mother would record his poems in a little book called “Estlin’s Original Poems.”

He also invented new words for his poems.

Cummings had a teacher that encouraged him in his writing, and an uncle who gave him a guide to writing poems called The Rhymester which became one of his most cherished possessions. The Poetry Foundation reports: “Between the ages of eight and twenty-two, he wrote a poem a day, exploring many traditional poetic forms.”

Estlin served in World War I, and published a fictionalized account of his experiences in 1922. It was called "The Enormous Room." A year later, he published his first book of poems. As the author observes:

“Using a style all his own, e.e. put lowercase letters where capitals normally go, and his playful punctuation grabbed readers’ attention. His poems were alive with experimentation and surprise!”

Typical poems by cummings placed words all over the page. He changed grammatical rules to meet his needs. Burgess observes in the Author’s Note:

“In many ways, Cummings was a champion of the small. He wrote about birds, grasshoppers, snowflakes, and other everyday pleasures. He frequently used lowercase letters, and he became famous for his use of the small ‘i.’ At a time when many of his contemporaries believed it was necessary to write a ‘long poem’ to become established as a major poet, Cummings preferred smaller forms.”

The author further explains that because of Estlin’s love for lowercase letters, he began to sign his name all in lowercase, so that he became e.e. cummings.

At the end of the book, there is a timeline, some examples of his poems, and an author’s note.

Illustrator Kris Di Giacomo uses multimedia and wordplay of her own to show the imaginative ways cummings experimented with form. She used a typewriter typeface to distinguish cummings’ words from the author’s narration.

The author explains that cummings ran into a lot of resistance for his unique rendering of words into art, but he “went right on dreaming and making. For inside, he knew his poems were new and true.” In time, the author informs us, “more and more people came to see the beauty of E.E.’s poetry, and he became one of the most beloved poets in America.”

Evaluation: I’m not sure the author picked the best poems to introduce cummings to children, but at the very least, Burgess shows the creative ways in which the poet’s words were arrayed on a page. The books conveys a couple of positive messages: that sometimes to make advances one needs to think outside the box, and that courage and persistence can pay off in the end. My own personal favorite by this poet I think has appeal for both children and adults:

"dominic has

a doll wired
to the radiator of his

icecoalwood truck a

wistful little
whom somebody buried

upsidedown in an ashbarrel so

of course dominic
took him

& mrs dominic washed his sweet

face & mended
his bright torn trousers (quite

as if he were really her &


's how dominic has a doll

& every now and then my
friend dominic depaola

gives me a most tremendous hug

i feel

we & worlds

less alive
than dolls &

dream." ( )
  nbmars | Apr 14, 2018 |
Personally, I became engaged with the illustrations throughout this book - dark and moody - yet fell out of interest with the long and complicated life of E.E. Cummings. Upon reflection, I would give this book another chance. Maybe smaller doses rather than reading straight through.
  Womanwellread | Aug 21, 2017 |
There are three reasons that I liked the book “Enormous Smallness: A Story of E.E. Cummings” by Matthew Burgess. The first reason that I liked this book is because it is a biography. However, although it is a biography, it is not boring. I typically associate biographies with a long and boring description of someone’s life; this children’s book made me change my view. This book is an interesting and exciting book about E.E Cummings life of writing poetry and illustrating. One of the reasons that this biography was so interesting is because it contained questions for the reader that would be answered later in the book. For example, on page six the author writes, “But how did he become a poet? And why is he called E.E?.” This immediately intrigued be and made me want to continue reading.

Second, I liked how this book contained poems that E.E. has written throughout the book. These poems gave me insight on how he writes and the type of poetry that he writes. Burgess writes, “When Estlin was six, he wrote a poem about trees: sunny in the morning/beautiful and fair/maple trees are happy/in the frosty air.” It was poems like these that made me want to continue reading and hear more about E.E.’s life and how he became a poet.

Finally, I loved seeing the illustrations that encompassed this book. With each turn of a page, there was a new beautiful illustration that filled up the entirety of the two pages. These double-paged illustrations described the words each page very well with the vast details and wonderful color choices. I continued to wonder throughout reading the entirety of the book what illustration would fill the succeeding page. ( )
  koreil6 | Mar 25, 2017 |
This stunning biography picture book describes the life of poet E.E. Cummings. The lovely illustrations creatively incorporate several of his poems and typewritten lines throughout the story. A significant portion of the book is devoted to his childhood, making this relatable for younger readers. Children will also find the style engaging. At the back of the book there is a timeline, poetry section, and author's note. ( )
  nrandles | Jul 23, 2016 |
This beautiful picture book tells the story of e.e. cumming's childhood. It focuses on his early influences. Several of his poems are included. The illustrations are wonderful.Typewritten examples of his poems are inspiring, and make one want to get a typewriter.
  Brad.Coulter | Jul 20, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159270171X, Hardcover)

Enormous Smallness is a nonfiction picture book about the poet E.E. cummings. Here E.E.'s life is presented in a way that will make children curious about him and will lead them to play with words and ask plenty of questions as well. Lively and informative, the book also presents some of Cummings's most wonderful poems, integrating them seamlessly into the story to give the reader the music of his voice and a spirited, sensitive introduction to his poetry.

In keeping with the epigraph of the book -- "It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are," Matthew Burgess's narrative emphasizes the bravery it takes to follow one's own vision and the encouragement E.E. received to do just that.

Matthew Burgess teaches creative writing and composition at Brooklyn College. He is also a writer-in-residence with Teachers & Writers Collaborative, leading poetry workshops in early elementary classrooms since 2001. He was awarded a MacArthur Scholarship while working on his MFA, and he received a grant from The Fund for Poetry. Matthew's poems and essays have appeared in various journals, and his debut collection, Slippers for Elsewhere, was published by UpSet Press. His doctoral dissertation explores childhood spaces in twentieth century autobiography, and he completed his PhD at the CUNY Graduate Center in June 2014.

Kris Di Giacomo is an American who has lived in France since childhood. She has illustrated over twenty-five books for French publishers, which have been translated into many languages. This is her sixth book to be published by Enchanted Lion Books. The others are My Dad Is Big And Strong, But . . . , Brief Thief, Me First!, The Day I Lost My Superpowers, and

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 23 Mar 2015 10:48:28 -0400)

"Enormous Smallness is a nonfiction picture book about the poet E. E. Cummings. Here E.E.'s life is presented in a way that will make children curious about him and will lead them to play with words and ask plenty of questions as well. Lively and informative, the book also presents some of Cummings's most wonderful poems, integrating them seamlessly into the story to give the reader the music of his voice and a spirited, sensitive introduction to his poetry."--Amazon.com.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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