It’s special to me when I discover that one of my favourite childhood books was also a favourite of my mum’s. This was the case with Rabbit And His Friends, which I posted about here, and with the book I’m posting about today: A Little House of Your Own.
Everyone has to have a little house of his own.
Every boy has to have his own little house.
Every girl should have a little house all to herself.
In this book a ‘house’ is a metaphor for a space of one’s own – it doesn’t need to have a roof and four walls – it can be a cardboard box or a treehouse or the space under a dining table. No matter what place you find, it is important for every person to have a space that they can create and retreat to. As a child or an adult, it is an incredibly affirming idea.
The copy mum has is a 1961 reprint of the original 1957 publication, written by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers and illustrated by Irene Haas. The endpapers are stained and at one point the jacket became so damaged that mum resorted to cutting a portion of it and sticking it to the front.
My childhood memories focus mostly on the illustrations of the book – which evoked so strongly in my imagination possible scenarios for creating new cubby houses and hiding places. The detail is exquisite and even now I can’t help but look at these pictures in awe of the simplicity of the form – black and white, pen and ink with incredible detail and variation in light and dark rendered on each page.
I loved the book’s message when I was little – and the very empowering feeling it gave me. It validated the desire for even a small child to have some place of their very own. This message has the same power, and a different significance as an adult. The following passage resonates particularly now:
Your papa is in his own little house when he is behind his newspaper.
He wants everyone to leave him alone. He doesn’t want anyone to bother him.
When your mama takes a nap it is just as though she has gone into her own little house and shut the doors and the windows.
She wants everyone to leave her alone. She doesn’t want anyone to talk to her or to ask her questions.
If you tickle her she will wake up -
and then she won’t be in her own little secret house anymore.
But that really isn’t fair, is it?