by Lynne Vallone

About Lynne Vallone

Lynne Vallone is Professor of Childhood Studies at Rutgers University-Camden. Her most recent book is Big and Small: A Cultural History of Extraordinary Bodies (2018).


The OED defines size as the “magnitude, bulk, bigness of anything.” Size may be qualified to denote, describe, or categorize material things—such as nanotechnology—as well as immaterial ones, such as big ideas. In addition, the word size relates to the spatial dimension of persons or of items such as books. Although size, like time, may appear to be simply objective and mensural, it is also an experiential phenomenon. Size is both a fact and an epistemology, a measurement and a category of difference used to evaluate persons and things. Although an object or person’s size can yield data “by eye” or via tools measuring different aspects (such as height, width, and volume), how the data are organized is a matter of perspective, and how size is experienced is a matter of embodiment and social culture (Vallone 2017). The experience of size is inextricably tied to scale: we understand the adjectives big or small and their many degrees of superlatives only when an object or body is put in relation to something else. Very often, scale is experienced emotionally. Edmund Burke (1757) theorizes that extremes of size—both large and small—provoke feelings of the sublime. As the go-to measure of both size and value, the human body leads to the creation of “conventions of symmetry and balance on the one hand, and the grotesque and the disproportionate on the other” (Stewart [1984] 1993). Such adjudications play out in children’s books in which bodies of exaggerated size are appreciated and found to be beautiful and precious or rejected as ugly and disgusting. Thus notions and negotiations of big and small are integral to the history and development of children’s literature (Vallone 2017).