Jean Little – Part 3 of the series on Third Culture Kids authors
After reading about Jean Little’s childhood and early adulthood, in her autobiography, Little by Little, as well as reading a selection of her children’s books, I have become very fond of Jean. If you asked me today, what author I would love to sit down with over a cup of tea or coffee, I would say, enthusiastically, “Jean Little!”
Why? You might ask. Well, I see someone who has had to deal with more than her fair share of struggles as a child and yet, has used her gifts and abilities to impact children as a teacher, a speaker and a writer. Jean, at the age of seven, had to deal not only with moving back to Canada from Taiwan and all the adjustments that come with that, but overcoming physical disabilities, loneliness and bullying in school.
After graduating from high school, and although she was legally blind, she went on to attend the University of Toronto. During this time, her father – who believed in her, encouraged her and constantly urged her to pursue her dream of becoming a writer – passed away. She somehow, managed to pull herself out of her deep state of shock and grief, and finish on time, to earn her BA in English language and literature.
In her early twenties, as she was teaching in a school for physically disabled children, she realized that there were virtually no books about children with disabilities. In most of her favorite childhood books that she would read to her class, any child with a disability was somehow “cured” and went on to live a normal life, such as Colin in the Secret Garden or Clara in Heidi by Johanna Spyri. Most of the children that Jean worked with would never experience a miracle cure and would struggle the rest of their lives. Jean decided to write such a book – her first book was titled “Mine For Keeps” about a child with cerebral palsy. Her first book, published in 1962, won the Canadian Children’s Book Award. Since then, Jean has published over 50 books. She has written novels, picture books, poetry, short stories, and two autobiographical books. Her book “His Banner Over Me” tells the story of her mother, Flora Little, who was herself a TCK from Taiwan – another incredible story of hardship, loss, and courage.
Jean’s life story inspires me. I don’t know about you, but I need these “guiding lights” to whisper in my ear and urge me on, as I face struggles or difficulties: “Come on, Gail, look at Jean. If someone with all the struggles she went through, and all the losses and hurts can rise above and make an impact, so can you!” I want to say:
“Thank you, Jean, for sharing your story and giving all us third culture kids, the courage to overcome and impact the lives of those around us.”
Books by Jean Little
- Birdie for Now- 2002
- Dancing Through the Snow- 2007
- Different Dragons- 1986
- Forward, Shakespeare- 2005
- From Anna- 1972
- His Banner Over me- 1995
- Home From Far- 1965
- Kate- 1971
- Listen for the Singing- 1977
- Look Through my Window- 1970
- Lost and Found- 1985
- Mama’s Going to Buy you a Mockingbird- 1984
- Mine for Keeps- 1962
- One to Grow On- 1969
- Rescue Pup- 2004
- Somebody Else’s Summer- 2005
- Spring Begins in March- 1966
- Stand in the Wind- 1975
- Take Wing- 1968
- The Belonging Place- 1997
- The Birthday Girl- 2004
- The Jean Little Collection- 2001
- Willow and Twig- 2000 (young adult book)
- Hey World, Here I am- 1986
- I Gave Mom a Castle- 2003
- When the Pie was Opened- 1968
- Bats About Baseball- 1995
- Gruntle Piggle Takes Off- 1996
- I Know an Old Laddie- 2003
- Jenny and the Hanukkah Queen- 1995
- Jess was the Brave One- 1991
- Listen, Said the Donkey- 2006
- Once Upon a Golden Apple- 1991
- Pippin the Christmas Pig- 2003
- Revenge of the Small Small- 1992
- The Sweetest One of All- 2008
Autobiographies and biography
- Little By Little- 1987
- Stars Come Out Within- 1990
- His Banner Over Me – 1995 – fascinating story of her mother’s life, also a TCK.
From Anna by Jean Little (1972)
This is the story of Anna Solden, a visually impaired girl who moves from Germany to Canada with her family, as Hitler rises to power in the 1930s in Germany. From Anna is one of Jean Little’s most popular works and has many similarities with her own life story. I absolutely loved it! I think it ranks up there with my top 10 favorite chapter books. This is another great TCK story, as Anna and her family adjust to another language and culture, after living all their lives in Germany. I also liked that she tackled the issue of both cultural adjustments and living with disabilities not just in the school context but in family life. I highly recommend this book. (for ages 8-12)
The Belonging Place by Jean Little (1997)
This historical fiction novel is set in the mid-nineteenth century. A young Scottish girl, Elspet, is adopted an aunt and uncle after her mother’s death. The family, including Elspet eventually immigrate to Canada. The theme of the search to belong is prominent throughout the book, as Elspet struggles with belonging in her adopted family and the family adjusts to their new home in Canada. If your kids like the Little House on the Prairie books, this is a must read. (for ages 8-12)
Dancing Through the Snow by Jean Little
After being abandoned at the age of 4, Min has been shuffled from foster home to foster home. Now a week before Christmas, she finds herself at the Children’s Aid office. Her foster mother no longer wants to care for her. She has no family, no birthday, no idea of where she came from. Jess Hart, a former Children’s Aid doctor, can’t take it anymore. She storms in and announced to the social worker that she is taking Min home with her for the holidays. Min, both grateful and fearful, slowly begins to allow Jess into her heart and life. A moving story perfect for Christmas, both for an older child to read on their own or as a family read-aloud. (for ages 9 and up)
Lost and Found by Jean Little
The short novel with a big punch, this is one that after reading it, I thought, wow, that one I should add to my list of books on moving. This is the story of a young girl who is not excited about moving to her new home, and having to make new friends. An lost dog and his needs brings her out of her shell. I love the ending. (For age 6-9)
Little by Little by Jean Little
In this first of her two autobiographies, which starts off with her life in Taiwan, Jean shares of her joys and struggles as she deals with change and her visual disabilities. I won’t summarize her life, there are way too many amazing stories but I will say: read this book! I will also include a short excerpt to wet your appetite – this is my favorite part of the book:
Jean describes, in this chapter, how she had to ride the streetcar home from school one day on her own. Since she didn’t recognize her street corner and couldn’t hear the driver clearly announcing her stop, she missed her stop and rode all the way to the end of the line, before the bus driver noticed her. He did take her back to her stop, she got off and ran home, into her mother’s arms, sobbing. Her mother held her, then told her to go get ready for bed. She brought her dinner up to her on a tray. Jean asked her mother to read to her. She adds: “I needed a story to come between me and the difficult things that had happened“. (I love that!). Her mom summoned her siblings then opened a book and began to read:
“When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle, everybody said she was the most disagreeable looking child ever seen. It was true too.”
Jean, in Little by Little, goes on to explain:
“I laid down my spoon. From the first sentence, The Secret Garden seemed especially mine. I did not wonder what Mary Lennox looked like. I knew. She looked exactly like me…. I had make two journeys that day, one to the end of the streetcar line and one to Misselthwaite Manor. I never cared to ride to the end of the line again, but over and over I would return to that vast and mysterious house. And always, when I got to the long walk, Mary herself would be waiting to take me through the door to the secret garden.”
Little by Little is for ages 9 and up – a great book for adults too
Her autobiography continues in The Stars Come Out Within – also a great read.
His Banner Over Me by Jean Little
This book tells the story of Jean’s mother, Flora Millicent “Gorrie” Gauld. She was also born in Taiwan to missionary parents, but spent much of her life with relatives in Canada, separated from her parents. She became one of the nation’s first women doctors and a missionary herself. The books is a powerful reminder of the great sacrifices early missionaries made, including many years of separation from their children. A must read! (For ages 9 and up)
- Jean Little was born in 1932, in Formosa, now called Taiwan.
- Shortly after her birth, doctors discovered that she had scars over both her corneas that caused severely impaired vision and crossed eyes.
- Jean’s parents were Canadian doctors serving as medical missionaries under the United Church of Canada in Taiwan. Jean has two older brothers, Jamie and Hugh and a younger sister, Pat.
- The Little family returned from Taiwan to live in Canada in 1939 when Jean was 7. In Toronto, she was placed in a classroom for visually impaired children, a classroom where she flourished and felt accepted. They moved to Guelph in 1940, where she entered a mainstream classroom and although she did well academically, she struggled to make friends and was often teased or ridiculed by her classmates. Reading became her passion and her escape from loneliness and hurt.
- She is one of Canada’s most successful children’s authors and the first to deal extensively with issues of disabilities.
- Her own struggles as a partially sighted individual are reflected through her characters, who often deal with physical disabilities, or confront psychological difficulties involving fear or grief.
- Jean writes her books using a talking computer that reads back the writing letter by letter, word by word, sentence by sentence or the entire file.
- She has a retired seeing-eye dog named Ritz and a new one named Pippa, with whom she travels. Her and her sister also have other pets, including a talking great parrot named Henry Huggins.
- Jean has written 50 books and has recieved numerous awards, including the Canada Council Children’s Literature Award and the Matt Cohen Award in celebration of her writing life.
- When not writing, Little keeps abreast of her audience by working with young people in the church, schools, and community.
- Favorite children’s books include The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
- She now lives in Guelph, Ontario with her sister Pat.
Quotes by Jean Little