To help alleviate the fear brought on by World War II, and keep the public updated on current events and issues, the United States government turned to Walt Disney. At the very same time, a 33-year-old author and illustrator named Virginia Lee Burton was serving her country as well. In 1942, her newly published children’s book, The Little House, had captured the hearts of people of all ages. “At the time it was published, The Little House comforted children distressed by the uncertainties of World War II,” shares Barbara Elleman, author of Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art.
|Virginia Lee Burton in her Gloucester, Massachusetts home studio.|
Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House continues to be an American classic in the world of children’s literature, and her illustrations are nothing short of precious. As an educator, one of my greatest joys is sharing this timeless book with my students, and listening to their interpretations of Burton’s work. The ideas they share do not necessarily stem from her text, but from her vivid illustrations. The change of time and the dawning of industry in The Little House are even apparent to the youngest of my pupils. Barbara Elleman elaborates, “The circular patterns that flow through the first thirteen pages, shaped to fit the page, suggest the harmonious values of country life. When change occurs, diagonal lines and drab grays and browns portend the coming industrialization.” Burton’s choice of colors burst from the pages of her book as each season changes, and the presence of time is evident in every detail of her drawings. With the beauty of her illustrations and the weaving of her words, the reader connects emotionally with the little house as they watch the city limits move in, casting its darkness around the tiny structure. The story itself is so rich, and begins and ends in the happiest of places - on a little hill way out in the country.
|Illustration from Virginia Lee Burton's original book.|
|Storyboard designed by Bill Peet for Walt Disney's The Little House.|
|Mary Blair's interpretation of The Little House for Walt Disney's version.|
|Virginia Lee Burton's little house (left) and Mary Blair's (right).|