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The Little, Little House

A Folktale from Eastern Europe

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Cover art of the folktale The Little, Little House by Jessica Souhami

The Little, Little House by Jessica Souhami

Frances Lincoln Children's Books
If the children's picture book The Little Little House seems somewhat familiar to you, that's because there are many versions of this Jewish folktale from Eastern Europe. I particularly like this retelling by Jessica Souhami because of the humor in the story and artwork and because of the crisp and colorful collages by the author/illustrator.

The Little, Little House: The Story

While details change in the various retellings, the basic story is the same. A poor man and his family live in a very little house. It is so little that they are unhappy, and the man, (named Joseph in this version) goes to a wise person, often a rabbi or a neighbor, for advice. In The Little Little House, Joseph goes to his wise Aunty Bella. After telling her the problem, "We can never be happy in such a little, little house," he asks her what to do. If fact, Joseph asks Aunty Bella what to do numerous times.

The first time Joseph asks, Aunty Bella tells him to move his six chickens into the house, saying, "See what a difference that will make!" That makes things worse, not better, and Joseph ends up going to Aunty Bella for help again and again. Each time, she tells him to move more animals into his little, little house, saying, "See what a difference that will make!" Finally, with six chickens, a rooster, a cow, and a smelly goat in his little, little house, Joseph is frantic. Again he returns to Aunty Bella's house. This time, she tells Joseph to remove all of the animals from his house. That makes such a difference that the house no longer seems too small to Joseph, his wife, and their three children, and they are all very happy to be in their little, little house.

The Little, Little House: The Illustrations

The illustrations are wonderful: bright and funny mixed-media collages depicting all of the characters, the animals and the little, little house. Except for one two-page spread, all of the collages are on a white background, causing the brightly colored cut-paper artwork to "pop" out at the reader. There is a lot of movement and humor in the illustrations as the family copes with their children arguing, chickens trying to eat the family's dinner, the rooster crowing at dawn, the clumsy cow, and the smelly goat. It's all laugh-out-loud fun.

The Little, Little House: Jessica Souhami

Jessica Souhami, the author and illustrator of The Little Little House has an interesting background. After studying art at Central School of Art and Design in London, England, she formed a traveling puppet company that utilized colorful shadow puppets along with a storyteller and music. According to Souhami's publisher, Frances Lincoln, the illustrations for some of her books, such as The Leopard's Drum: An Asante Tale From West Africa, include "illustrations adapted from the author's own shadow puppets." Other children's books by Souhami include Rama and the Demon King, The Famous Adventures of a Bird-brained Hen, No Dinner!: The Story of the Old Woman and the Pumpkin, Mrs.McCool and the Giant Cuchulainn and In the Dark Dark Wood. Jessica Souhami resides in north London.

The Little, Little House: My Recommendation

I recommend The Little, Little House as an excellent read-aloud for four- to eight-year olds. It is also a book that older children and adults will enjoy. While the four-year-olds probably won't understand the real meaning of the folktale, they'll enjoy the colorful illustrations, the repetition, and the humor.

It's a different case with older children. When I read The Little, Little House to a first grade class, the six- and seven-year-olds not only enjoyed the humor and the artwork, it was also apparent from their responses that they had grasped the point of the story. (Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2005. ISBN: 978-1845071080)

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