Tree Houses, Forts and Huts in Children’s Illustration

No Girls Allowed by Stevan Dohanos

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.

When Lulu’s feeling well, she climbs every tree in sight, especially the tallest ones, the ones with the widest branches, the ones with the stickiest sap.

But when Lulu’s sick, she’s not allowed outside. She wonders if the trees are lonely without her. Maybe the birds are too.

Without Lulu, nobody climbs the trees but the sun. . . which casts a shadow on Lulu’s wall. . . for her to climb.

1964 THE VERY PRIVATE TREEHOUSE written and illustrated by Harvey Weiss

TREE HOUSES

Breakout by Kate Messner cover image
Breakout by Kate Messner cover image

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.

The Tip-Top Tree House Daisy Tucker Whitman Tell-a-Tale Book 1969
The Tip-Top Tree House Daisy Tucker Whitman Tell-a-Tale Book 1969

HOLES AND HOLLOWS IN THE TRUNK

a different style from Adrienne Segur.  Thumbkin from the Fairy Tale Book, 1958
a different style from Adrienne Segur. Thumbkin from the Fairy Tale Book, 1958
Delphine Durand
Jerzy Karolak, Elementarz Wiewioreczki, 1963
Marco Somà
Richard Scarry
Ernest Howard Shepard (1879-1976), from Winnie The Pooh
Ernest Howard Shepard (1879-1976), from Winnie The Pooh

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
Fritz Baumgarten, Feesten in kabouterland, 1980
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

Benjamin Chaud
Arnold Lobel, Miss Suzy, 1964
Doris Susan Smith, Need a House Call Ms. Mouse, 1981
Janusz Stanny
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
Garth Williams illustrated this Giant Golden Book of Elves and Fairies 1951
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
Doris Burn's 'Andrew Henry's Meadow'
Doris Burn’s ‘Andrew Henry’s Meadow’
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
From 1949 edition of Childcraft Books Milo Winter illustrator
From 1949 edition of Childcraft Books Milo Winter illustrator
1950, Little Golden Book, Richard Scarry, The Animals Merry Christmas tree house
1950, Little Golden Book, Richard Scarry, The Animals Merry Christmas tree house
Jill Barklem (1951 - 2017) Brambly hedge tree house
Jill Barklem (1951 – 2017) Brambly hedge
This preliminary sketch for Spring Story, c. 1980, by Jill Barklem reminds me of E.H. Shepherd’s finished works in Winnie the Pooh.
Ocke, Nutta och Pillerill, Elsa Beskow 1939
Ocke, Nutta och Pillerill, Elsa Beskow 1939
Ocke, Nutta och Pillerill, Elsa Beskow 1939
Ocke, Nutta och Pillerill, Elsa Beskow 1939
Ocke, Nutta och Pillerill, Elsa Beskow 1939
Antonio Lupatelli, pseudonym Tony Wolf
Boris Diodorov, Winnie the Pooh
Natalia Trepenok, Russian folk tales
Marco Somà
Goodnight by Pixie O’Harris, 1957
DE NACHTMANNETJES (1946) Eetie van Rees
Marije Tolman, De boomhut
Marije Tolman, De boomhut
Trygve M. Davidsen (1895-1978) Tomten and Treehouse

VIEWS INSIDE THE TRUNK

Marla Frazee tree house illustration for Stars
Polish children's books of the 1950s
from a Polish children’s book of the 1950s
Richard Scarry
Sophie Blackall, The Crows of Pearblossom
Gustaf Tenggren, Stories From a Magic World, 1938
John Anster Christian Fitzgerald (UK, 1819-1906), The Captive Robin, 1864
John Anster Christian Fitzgerald (UK, 1819-1906), The Captive Robin, 1864
The Tale of the root children by Sibylle of Olfers
The Tale of the root children by Sibylle of Olfers
The Tale of the root children by Sibylle of Olfers
The Tale of the root children by Sibylle of Olfers

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
illustration is from the story entitled The Distressing Tale of Thangobrind the Jeweller, and of the Doom that Befell Him from The Book of Wonder by Lord Dunsany, illustration by Sidney Herbert Syme, 1912
illustration is from the story entitled The Distressing Tale of Thangobrind the Jeweller, and of the Doom that Befell Him from The Book of Wonder by Lord Dunsany, illustration by Sidney Herbert Syme, 1912

HOUSES INSIDE FRUIT

Kathleen Lolley
Kestutis Kasparavicius

Andrew Henry’s Meadow written and illustrated by Doris Burn

Richard Doyle The Fairy Tree c. 1865
Richard Doyle The Fairy Tree c. 1865
The book of wonder, a chronicle of little adventures at the edge of the world ca.1915 by Lord Dunsany illustrated by Sidney Herbert Sime
The book of wonder, a chronicle of little adventures at the edge of the world ca.1915 by Lord Dunsany illustrated by Sidney Herbert Sime
from the Dragonlance Saga
from the Dragonlance Saga
Vernon Thomas 1935

Header illustration: No Girls Allowed by Stevan Dohanos