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The Little House Paperback – April 26, 1978
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"Once upon a time there was a Little House way out in the country. She was a pretty Little House and she was strong and well built." So begins Virginia Lee Burton's classic The Little House, winner of the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1943. The rosy-pink Little House, on a hill surrounded by apple trees, watches the days go, by from the first apple blossoms in the spring through the winter snows. Always faintly aware of the city's distant lights, she starts to notice the city encroaching on her bucolic existence. First a road appears, which brings horseless carriages and then trucks and steamrollers. Before long, more roads, bigger homes, apartment buildings, stores, and garages surround the Little House. Her family moves out and she finds herself alone in the middle of the city, where the artificial lights are so bright that the Little House can no longer see the sun or the moon. She often dreams of "the field of daisies and the apple trees dancing in the moonlight." Children will be saddened to see the lonely, claustrophobic, dilapidated house, but when a woman recognizes her and whisks her back to the country where she belongs, they will rejoice. Young readers are more likely to be drawn in by the whimsical, detailed drawings and the happy ending than by anything Burton might have been implying about the troubling effects of urbanization. (Ages 3 to 6)
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If you're an overly analytical adult, the kind who notices that when it comes to the perennial contest between rural and cosmopolitan values Virginia Lee Burton sides with the former -- well, what should you make of that? Shouldn't a well-rounded American upbringing allow each child to experience the emotional pull of "way out in the country" as well as experience the attraction of the city's bright lights?
And, who knows? Reading to your child from "The Little House" might be complemented by, say, your child overhearing granddad doing his best Sinatra imitation, belting out "New York, New York." Virginia Lee Burton versus Kander & Ebb, point and counterpoint: let the arguments flow. "All was quiet and peaceful in the country," versus, "I want to wake up in a city that doesn't sleeps." "The lights of the city were too bright ... She missed the field of daisies and the apple trees dancing in the moonlight ... Never again would she be curious about the city," contrasted with, "I'm leaving today. I want to be a part of it: New York, New York ... these little town blues are melting away." On the one hand, a modest little house that aspires only to set quietly on a hill crest overseeing a bucolic realm. On the other hand, an ambitious go-getter hoping to make it all the way to king of world, top of the heap.
I came to read "The Little House" just recently after learning that it is the "lifelong favorite picture book" of novelist Anne Tyler. She vividly remembers her mother reading it to her, and when she became a mother herself Tyler enjoyed reading the story to her two daughters. She's even given away "several dozen copies" of the book as gifts to new babies. Tyler explains her love of the book in an article entitled "Why I Still Treasure 'The Little House'," which was published in The New York Times Book Review back in 1986. Tyler especially admires how Virginia Lee Burton managed in this small story "to say everything possible about change and loss and the passage of time." Tyler's essay, which I think is likely to increase your enjoyment of "The Little House," can be found online by doing a Google search of five words: Anne Tyler The Little House.
Our son thinks the house is neat to look at, especially as the pages turn and the house has many different backgrounds.
Once we get to the actual story with him, I have a feeling he might find it kind of sad, but it does have a sweet ending--if we can get that far.
At first I was concerned that this book wouldn't hold her attention. She loves having books read to her, but she also is used to watching kids' videos on YouTube and playing with toys that light up and sing. By comparison, this book could be a bore. However, the wonderful illustrations and repetitive prose have kept her entertained for at least one reading each day since this book arrived. The heavy stock of the board book is perfect for her small hands as well -- no worrying about torn pages.
As an aside, when this book arrived my spouse commented that reading this book as a child helped him better relate to the classic play "Death of a Salesman" when he read it in high school. I hope the author would be proud knowing her simple story for children resonates in dramas aimed at adults.