Spotlight on Jean Little

Canadian Author of Children's Books

Jean Little, Canadian author of children's books, and her seeing-eye dog, Pippa
Jean Little, Canadian author of children's books, and her seeing-eye dog, Pippa. (photo courtesy of Jean Little)

Summary

You may know that Jean Little is a Canadian author of children's books. You may know that she has written more than 50 children's books. You may even know that she has won a number of awards, including a Canadian Library Association (CLA) Book of the Year Medal and a Canada Council Children's Literature Award. But did you know that for more than fifty years Jean Little has been writing children's books that have attracted an international audience?

She has written books for both young and older readers. When you look at Jean's life, you can see it reflected in the plots of some of her popular books.

Jean Little: Her Life

Jean Little was born in Taiwan in 1932. Her parents were both doctors. Jean grew up in Ontario, Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto. She was born with a severe eye problem and is severely visually impaired. A special "talking" computer assists her with her writing. She has a seeing-eye dog named Pippa, with whom she travels. The author focuses on her experiences from the time she was a child through young adulthood in her autobiography, Little by Little, and continues her story in Stars Come Out Within. The books, which will appeal to children 10 and older, are both humorous and poignant as Jean describes living with a disability and the ridicule she sometimes experienced as a result, as well as her love for the world of reading and books.

Her Books

Jean Little's first book, Mine for Keeps, won the Little Brown Children's Book Award in 1962 and was republished by Viking Penguin in 1995. It tells the story of Sally Copeland, a 10 year old with cerebral palsy, and her adjustment to being home after spending several years in a special school.

You'll find that several of the themes in this book appear in a number of the author's other books: dealing with a handicap and the responses of others, fitting in, and adjusting to new situations and surroundings.

Some of Jean's other books include From Anna, Listen for the Singing, Stand in the Wind, Mama's Going to Buy You a Mockingbird, Emma's Yucky Brother (see my review), Hey World, Here I Am!, Look through My Window, The Belonging Place, and Mine for Keeps. Listen for the Singing was the Canada Council Children's Literature Award winner in 1977. Mama's Going to Buy You a Mockingbird was the CLA Book of the Year in 1985. Jean Little is also the author of several books in the Dear Canada series, including Orphan at My Door, winner of the CLA Book of the Year for Children Award, and Brothers Far from Home, a CLA Honour Book.

My Recommendations for 9-12 Year Olds

My two favorite books by Jean Little are Hey World, Here I Am! and From Anna. While these are two very different types of books, they both will appeal to 9 to 12 year olds. In Hey World, Here I Am!, the author takes the reader into the mind of early teen Kate Bloomfield through Kate's journals: her poems and brief takes on family, friends, and love.

Little does such a fine job that you will feel as if you are actually reading a real teen's innermost thoughts. The entries range from humorous to insightful to poignant. Because the entries are both brief and captivating, this is a particularly good book for reluctant readers. The American Library Association (ALA) designated Hey World, Here I Am! one of its Notable Books of 1989.

From Anna is a fascinating novel that portrays a time of profound change, both external and internal, for the main character. Anna is one of five children. Her family lives in Germany, but due to the depression they immigrate to Canada. Anna is nine years old and has a well defined role in her family. She is the clumsy one, the moody one. Not until Anna sees a doctor as part of the immigration process does her family learn that she is severely visually impaired.

Anna is fitted with glasses, which are a great help, but since she is still quite visually impaired she is sent to a special "sight saving" class with other children like her.

Anna has a great deal to contend with. She has to adjust to a new country, a new school, and a new language. She also has to carve out a new role for herself in her family. Although her family intellectually understands that her clumsiness and moodiness may have been caused by her problems seeing, emotionally they can't seem to let go of the role they have assigned her in the family. In a sympathetic classroom environment, Anna starts to blossom and by the story's end, the reader has the satisfaction of seeing Anna's family beginning to let go of outdated perceptions and see Anna in a new light. I thoroughly enjoyed From Anna and highly recommend it.

I hope this brief introduction to Jean Little and some of her books has made you interested in sharing her books with your children.

(Sources: Jean Little's website, Scholastic Canada)