Written and Illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton
Houghton Mifflin, 1942
Awards: Caldecott Medal
Once upon a time there was a Little House way out in the country.
The plot in a nutshell: A little house sees a lot of changes over the years.
The Little House is well built and her owner, who also built her, declares that she will never be sold and that she will see many generations of his family living in her. Seasons go by and the Little House watches the passage of time. Over the years, the city that was once far away is built up around her, taking away the countryside. She can’t be sold and no one wants to live in her, so she falls into disrepair and the city progresses and grows. One day, the great-great-granddaughter of the man who built the house notices her there and recognizes her as the house her grandmother once lived in. She moves the house out to a hill in the country and fixes her back up, where she happily stays from that point on.
This wonderful classic story was a childhood favorite of mine that only grew in my estimation as I got older. Author/illustrator Virginia Lee Burton is perhaps better known for Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, but this one always was my favorite of her books. In addition to the Caldecott Medal, it continues to show up in Top 100 lists from School Library Journal and National Education Association. Ms. Burton has said that she never meant the story to be an environmental fable or an indictment of urban sprawl, but rather an appreciation of the simple life and the changes that come with the passing of time.
It was the book’s artwork that I really loved, especially the pictures of the little house in all the different seasons. (I once bought some tracing paper and traced all the lines in these pictures, just so I could then color them myself.) The Walt Disney Studio produced an animated short of this story in 1952, narrated by the delightful Sterling Holloway. The illustrations use the house’s structure to show its emotions, with the windows as eyes and the front step as a mouth which curves up into a smile or down into a frown. I still love this book and love to share it with others.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that everyone belongs someplace where they can be happy and appreciated.