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The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

A Classic Children's Picture Book

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Cover of The Little House 70th Anniversary Edition
Houghton Mifflin Company

Introduction

For 70 years, generations of readers have enjoyed the timeless story of The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. The pretty Little House is pink, strong, and well built. She is very happy on her hill in the country. However, at night when she sees the lights of the city, she can’t help but wonder what it would be like to live there. I recommend this classic children's book for children 3 years and older, who will experience with the Little House the joys of country living in contrast to the hustle and bustle of city life.

The Story

At 44 pages, The Little House is longer in length than the average 32-page picture book. The Little House loves her life in the country on the hill as she watches the changes of the seasons and the children playing. The man who built the sturdy house said, “This Little House shall never be sold for gold or silver and she will live to see our great-great grandchildren’s great-great grandchildren living in her.” One day the Little House is surprised to see a horseless carriage. Pretty soon there are roads and the Little House watches the trucks and automobiles going back and forth to the city.

As the years go by, the city lights that were once a curious attraction in the distance become brighter and brighter. Soon the city surrounds the Little House so that she can no longer tell when the seasons change. She looks lonely and dirty and the people in the city hurry by without noticing her.

One day, the great-great-granddaughter of the man who built the Little House walks by the shabby Little House. Will she recognize the Little House? Will the Little House remain in the city? Will the Little House ever see the country and children again?

The Illustrations

Virginia Lee Burton received the Randolph Caldecott Medal for picture book illustration for The Little House in 1943. While the illustrations may seem simple at first glance, upon closer scrutiny, the charming details of the watercolor illustrations are a pleasure to pour over and admire, including the endpapers. The illustrations on the endpapers give a glimpse of the changes that the Little House will endure over the years.

The little cars, children playing, animals in the field, and other details give movement and action on the pages of the book. The Little House herself has a life-like face that appears happy and cheerful in the countryside. As her emotions change to sad and lonely while she's surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the city, so do the background colors change from bright and colorful to browns, dark grays, and black.

The details also mark the passage of time from the changing seasons in the countryside to the changes in transportation, buildings, and roads from the urban sprawl. The strategically placed text and illustrations complement each other to give the Little House human emotions and feelings that the reader will care about.

Virginia Lee Burton

To learn more about Virginia Lee Burton, see my book review of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, another of Burton's picture books that has become a classic, and watch the About.com video profile of Virginia Lee Burton. For another example of her books, see Katy and the Big Snow.

My Recommendation

The Little House is the perfect example of a picture book that can be enjoyed on many levels for children 3 years of age and up. Preschool children can appreciate and understand the feelings and desires of the Little House to return to the country as well as the passage of time and change of seasons through the illustrations. With older children, the story encourages a discussion on environmental changes, urban sprawl, and living in nature - topics that are just as relevant today. This 1943 Caldecott winner, with its well-paced text combined with interesting illustrations, has had an enduring effect on readers young and old for many generations. The Little House is a wonderful example of why picture books matter.

About the 70th Anniversary Edition, From Your Guide Elizabeth Kennedy

There's a lot to enjoy about the special edition of The Little House, published in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the book's publication in 1942. The 9-3/4" x 9" hardbound book has a special dust jacket with foil trim and two stickers on it: a 70th anniversary sticker and a Randolph Caldecott Medal sticker. There is an interesting two-page essay by Burton's son, Aris Demetrios, a noted sculptor. Demetrios sheds light on Burton's approach to writing for children in general and her work on The Little House in particular. In addition, the book comes with an audio CD of the book. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 70th Anniversary Edition, 2012. ISBN: 9780547790442)

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