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.

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.

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.

HOLES AND HOLLOWS IN THE TRUNK

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
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
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
1950, Little Golden Book, Richard Scarry, The Animals Merry Christmas tree house
1950, Little Golden Book, Richard Scarry, The Animals Merry Christmas tree house
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

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
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