“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.”
Published in 1942 by Virginia Lee Burton who wrote the words and created the art, The Little House tells the story of industrialization and urban sprawl. The Little House sits on a country hill surrounded by apple tree and green grass. The seasons pass, she looks up at the stars, the children grow up and move away, and The Little House wonders what it would be like to live in the city. One day, the city comes to her. A road is built, then houses, then buildings, then subways. She falls into disrepair. After a while, The Little House realizes she doesn’t like living in the city. Then, one day, the great-great granddaughter realizes The Little House belongs in her family and she has the house moved back to the country.
The artwork is the key. Yeah, I know I’m a wordsmith but it’s true. The Little House is anthropomorphic, with two eyes and a smile. You can always tell what she’s thinking. But its the stages of urbanization as shown by the vehicles that really make this book shine. Two-wheeled carriages lead to four wheels to cars. There’s even a steam shovel that looks like the title character from Burton’s Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. The story ends in the 1940s. I can only imagine what Burton would have drawn had the book been written in the 1960s, the 1980s, or the 2000s.
This is a book that I had truly forgotten about. I rediscovered it when I helped my parent wade through some old storage boxes of my childhood stuff. I started reading this book to my son and we both like it. I know why I like it: this is a history book disguised as a children’s book. It makes history come alive in an entertaining and visual way. Better than a textbook, that’s for sure.