Walking up Drayton Gardens, a residential road in London, we saw a little house, wedged between townhouses. Above the ancient door was a mural of the house’s pastoral grandeur. Like the shepherd at the gate, I stopped in my tracks. Tears welled up in my eyes.
Growing up in Manhattan, one of my favorite books was The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. My father saved it from his childhood collection. He would have been 6 and living in Manhattan too when it was released in 1942.
The Little House is an American tale of a small pink house in the country. She sees the distant lights of the city and wonders what it would be like to live there. Over the years, the city sprawls towards her. Abandoned by the family who built her, she grows derelict and is trapped between skyscrapers, no longer able to see the stars at all.
“Then one fine morning in Spring along came the great-great-great-grandaughter of the man who built the Little House so well. She saw the shabby Little House, but didn’t hurry by.”The Little House was published in 1942, but the story feels like a current tale of urban sprawl. Burton’s gorgeous illustrations remind me of another favorite artist, Grandma Moses. Her words are both poetic and visionary. The Little House won the Caldecott Medal in 1943.
Back in the 1970s, my family lived in a brownstone in a vanishing neighborhood of low-rise buildings. The old wood frame building next door, one of the last remaining in the city, was torn down to build a “pencil building” before laws banned them. Pencil buildings were mini-apartment buildings, built on a single lot.
On the avenues, rows of century old townhouses were razed to build luxury condominium high-rises. The Old World feeling of Yorkville became Upper East Side posh. Today there are no more children playing unattended on the sidewalks. Brownstones remain midblock, wedged between huge apartment buildings.
Living in small town Maine now, I feel like the Little House dug up from the city and transported:
“ As the Little House settled down
on her new foundation,
she smiled happily.
Once again she could watch
the moon and the stars.
Once again she could watch
Spring and Summer
and Fall and Winter
come and go.
she was lived in
and taken care of.”
Virginia Lee Burton passed away in 1968, when I was just learning how to turn pages without tearing them. Burton’s picture books are still in print today through Houghton Mifflin. The Little House would make a special holiday gift for your child or grandchild. Of the many books I passed onto other children when mine got older, this one remains on my shelf and in my heart.
Do you have a favorite picture book from your childhood?
Book Award Watch: Tonight is the National Book Award. I'm rooting for Maine author Phillip Hoose. Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice tells the true story of a teenaged girl who refused to give her seat to a white woman on the bus. Colvin was jailed 9 months before Rosa Parks and went on to testify in court against segregation. Hoose interviewed Colvin to tell this true heroic tale, for the first time giving it the attention it deserves. Hoose's guest tonight is Colvin. I dare you to watch the video above with dry eyes. Update: Phillip Hoose won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature - congratulations!
Shakespeare Watch: the Brunswick High School in Maine is performing Much Ado About Nothing on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 7pm and 2pm matinee on Saturday. In addition to a ticket, bring one item of non-perishable food to contribute to the food drive. Ten percent of ticket sales are also going towards the hunger drive, once costume costs are paid. The kids are doing a great job with this delightful romantic comedy. I've been observing rehearsals to research my young adult novel as u like it.