Customer Review

48 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Urban sprawl - the picture book, October 14, 2004
This review is from: The Little House (Sandpiper Books) (Hardcover)
The year is 1942 and America has fallen head over heels in love with a whole new literary form. It's sweeping the nation! It's appearing hither and yon! Yes, in the early 1940s, picture books were suddenly awash in inanimate objects with human characteristics. Whether it was "The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge", or the Caldecott winning, "The Little House", children were reading about a variety of living breathing pieces of architecture. Virginia Lee Burton was especially good at this kind of book. Her previous venture, "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel", was a smash hit (remaining so today). So Burton decided to up the stakes a little and write a similar story about a little house. In this book, however, Burton outdoes herself by being able to convey seasons, the passage of time, and the nasty ways cities have of encroaching on country landscapes all within a scant 40 pages.

Long ago a little house was built in the country. The man who built her decided that this house, special as it was, could never be bought and sold. Instead, he planned on leaving it to his children, his children's children, and his children's children's children. Etc. The house was pleased with the arrangement. It watched the seasons go by. It watched the children that played in it grow up and move away. It even watched the changing fashions and modes of transportation. Horse and buggies one day, automobiles the next. This is all well and good until a new asphalt road appears. Suddenly it's a heckuva lot easier for people to reach the area in which the little house lives. Things get faster and suddenly the little house is surrounded by tenement houses. Then there are trolley cars (oh the trolley cars). Next comes elevated trains, and subways, and (worst of all) gigantic skyscrapers on either side of the now seriously dilapidated little house. One day, a descendent of the original owner sees the house and inquires after it. Since it turns out she owns it (I guess... the book's a little shaky on the legal aspects of ownership at this point) the house is summarily picked up by movers and taken to the country she loves so much. Happy house. Happy family. The end.

I wonder what the percentage is of children reading this book and realizing that, in time, the city will probably come to surround the little house yet again. There has probably never been a better book that delineates so clearly the horrors of urban sprawl. On a less hoity-toity level, this is just a darn good book. Burton's illustrations are simple little paintings with tiny human figures. Due to the fact that there are nineteen pictures of the little house that are basically looking at it straight on without any change in perspective or angle, it's mind-boggling that Burton has still managed to make every single illustration unique and interesting. Whether she's filled the page with autumnal colors, or is driving home the horror of the little house's fate through stark black and white images, these pictures are incredibly well done. Kids reading the book will enjoy the different vehicles and tiny human figures that dot each page. Adults will enjoy the craft Burton has taken with her storytelling.

There are a lot of Caldecott award winning books that have aged oh-so badly. "Animals of the Bible" comes to mind as does the gawdawful "Abraham Lincoln" by the Parin d'Aulaires. This book, however, is well worthy of its praise. It may not be a flashy irony-soaked post-modern picture book like the ones being written today (and admittedly, I love a good irony-soaked picture book as much as the next gal) but it holds its ground and deserves to be remembered. Give it half a chance and you'll wind up loving it.
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4.8 out of 5 stars (150 customer reviews)
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E. R. Bird "Ramseelbird"
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Location: Manhattan, NY

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