Little people up to no good (part 1): the classics

Have you ever noticed how many books there are about the lives of tiny people? Jonathan Swift pretty much started it with Gulliver’s Travels (1726), but the conceit of itty bitty humans really seems to have taken off from there.

Mistress Masham’s Repose by T.H. White (1946)

Mistress Masham's ReposeMistress Masham’s Repose is an often-overlooked older title that picks up in the generation after Gulliver’s return to England. T.H. White creates a story surrounding a small group of Lilliputians who were kidnapped by a ship’s captain and end up colonizing a small island in a garden after their escape. They are discovered one summer by Maria, a hapless orphan girl with no one to love. The language in this book is much more in line with Gulliver’s Travels than some of the others books on this list, so it can be challenging for young readers. However, Maria is endearing and the Lilliputians are staunch allies, so stick with it for an amusing and very British adventure.

The Borrowers by Mary Norton (1952)

I read a review of this book that started “I like little people who steal…” which I think The Borrowerssums up the main appeal of the Borrowers brilliantly. Theft as a sanctioned way of life is fascinating, when you think about it. I mean, at less than 6 inches tall, it’s not like they can buy what they want. And they are constantly repurposing small treasures to be useful to their size… which makes them very like children, in a way. The Borrowers use their imagination on ordinary objects all the time in order to improve their lives. It’s an inspiring lesson in creativity and the rest of the story is pretty great, too, not least because Mary Norton takes the Borrowers seriously as individuals, with legitimate difficulties in negotiating life in a huge and hostile world.

The Littles by John Lawrence Peterson (1967)

The LittlesThings I like about the Littles: they have an extended family, a willingness to interact with the human world in a more daring fashion than the Borrowers, and, of course, their tails. The Littles adventures are geared towards younger readers, so if you’re looking for an order of tiny people books, I would place this one after Thumbelina (1835) and before The Borrowers in difficulty. The Littles are sweeter than practically all of the other tiny people in this list; they repay their necessary thefts by maintaining the electricity and plumbing in the walls, and are genuinely invested in the home they share with the Biggs.

Want more reading ideas? Check out Part 2: The Modern Tiny Person. Also be sure to visit the ‘Wee People and Fairies’ display in Central Library’s Faye G. Allen Children’s Center!

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