Tree Houses, Forts and Huts in Children’s Illustration

One major task for the children’s storyteller: Getting parents out of the story. Children need to be the drivers of their own narratives. Storytellers have come up with many ways of getting adult helpers and caregivers out of the way.

Here’s another: Give the child a home of their own. Within the world of the story, this play home may function as the permanent home. Or it may be a temporary construction with the safety of real home nearby. Doesn’t matter.

Sometimes barns are used for this purpose. Fern Arable’s ‘other’ home was the barn, and her ‘other family’ comprised the animals who lived in the barn. (Charlotte’s Web)

Ships and boats are also useful as second homes. They often end up on islands, where the child is free to do exactly as they wish for a little while before returning home. See Where The Wild Things Are.

Or perhaps the children go camping and pitch a tent. This might be in the back yard.

Scene from Bluey, made in Australia, a series all about having fun at home, dealing with emotions, suffering through rifts and making up.

Then there are forts.

Kids begin to build forts indoors around age 4, Sobel found, then start venturing outside around age 6 or 7 to construct dens, treehouses and other fort-like structures more independently, a practice that continues into their tweens. Metaphorically and physically, building forts reflects children’s growth as individuals, Sobel says; they create a “home away from home,” free from parental control. Forts also foster creativity.

Why Kids Love Building Forts

But I do love a good tree house.

TREE HOUSES

When you think of a tree house you likely conjure the image of a tiny house up in the branches. And these kinds of tree houses are common in children’s stories. Tree houses built around the base of tree trunks, and inside them, are also surprisingly popular, perhaps ever since apes came down from the trees and realised tree bases look disturbingly like feet. (See Baba Yaga.) There are many ways of living in (or below) a tree.

HOLES IN THE TRUNK

BIRD HOUSES HANGING OFF TREES

Kodomo no kuni (“Children’s Land”), 1922–30 treehouse
Kodomo no kuni (“Children’s Land”), 1922–30
Fritz Baumgarten 1886-1961 treehouse
Fritz Baumgarten 1886-1961
Jane Werner (1914-2005) and Cornelius De Witt (1925-1970) collaborated and produced this 1949 book called- Words How They Look and What They Tell birds in tree
Jane Werner (1914-2005) and Cornelius De Witt (1925-1970) collaborated and produced this 1949 book called- Words How They Look and What They Tell

HOUSES BUILT IN THE BOUGHS

From The Tall Book of Make Believe Selected by Jane Werner Pictures by Garth Williams 1950
From The Tall Book of Make Believe Selected by Jane Werner Pictures by Garth Williams 1950
Carl Strathmann The Stork Tree 1890s
Carl Strathmann The Stork Tree 1890s
The Christmas Party by Adrienne Adams, 1978 tree house
The Christmas Party by Adrienne Adams, 1978
See also

The Monster Next Door by David Soman. A boy lives in a tree house. (Parents are never on the page.) On the recto side of the spreads, we see a purple monster has moved in next door. The two become friends, have an argument and become friends again. This story models how to repair a relationship.

The Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton are super popular bestsellers here in Australia.

HOUSES BUILT AROUND THE BASE OF TREES

illustrator of the Toby Twirl books was the British artist Edward Jeffrey from Durham, 1898 -1978 2
illustrator of the Toby Twirl books was the British artist Edward Jeffrey from Durham, 1898 -1978
1950, Little Golden Book, Richard Scarry, The Animals Merry Christmas tree house
1950, Little Golden Book, Richard Scarry, The Animals Merry Christmas tree house
Blair Lent (1930 - 2009) 1968 illustration for Tikki Tikki Tembo
Blair Lent (1930 – 2009) 1968 illustration for Tikki Tikki Tembo
Marije Tolman, De boomhut
Marije Tolman, De boomhut

VIEWS INSIDE THE TRUNK

Marla Frazee tree house illustration for Stars

OTHER TREE HOUSE REPRESENTATIONS

David Weidman's Bird Tree from 1965
David Weidman’s Bird Tree from 1965
Vintage German postcard treehouse
Vintage German postcard
Cats of the Floating World an illustrated book from Taiwan
Cats of the Floating World an illustrated book from Taiwan
Terry Fan
Elsa Beskow
Elsa Beskow
Mattias Adolfsson
Mattias Adolfsson

HOUSES INSIDE FRUIT

Header illustration: No Girls Allowed by Stevan Dohanos