Little by Little Critical Context - Essay

Jean Little

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Although Little by Little was written for young audiences, it is a charming book for readers of all ages because it recounts the story of one woman’s heroic struggle to overcome her physical limitations and to transcend the cruelty and ignorance of the people surrounding her. Admirably, Little is neither condescending nor didactic. She does not propose behavioral guidelines for others because, though she ultimately triumphs, she has never learned to ignore the pain caused by her ostracism. Instead, she tells a story of personal strength, in the process illustrating her eminently human qualities.

While still young, Little distilled difficult lessons about humanity, such as the fact that cruelty and insensitivity are traits common to both children and adults. As a teenager, for example, she endured the public tirade of an enraged teacher who was angry because she was forced to teach someone who was “abnormal.” Yet, while Little never learned to insulate herself from the insensitivity of others, she did learn to succeed in spite of it. Because she details the problems of being an outsider, Little’s book has universal appeal.

In this grand book for children and young adults, Little describes her embarrassments, goals, desires, and successes. Her love of reading and her description of the worlds that are opened to her through literature may encourage young people to read, and her courage in dealing with adversity and challenge will inspire all her readers—both young and old.