David Small was born and raised in Detroit, a sickly child who stayed in a lot and spent most of his time drawing. He studied writing, but switched to art at the age of 21, which he took at Wayne State University and later Yale University. He went on to become a college arts teacher, writing and filming on the side. In 1981 his first illustrated book was published, 'Eulalie and the Hopping Head'. Many more followed, a number in collaboration with his wife Sarah Stewart, of which 'The Gardener' won him a Caldecott Honor. In 2001 he won the Caldecott Medal for 'So You Want to Be President?', a book which combined political cartoons with children's book illustrations. His work has also appeared in the New York Times.
In 2009 'Stitches' appeared, a graphic novel in which David Small deals with his youth as a sick kid in a dysfunctional family, and his having throath cancer at the age of 14.