31 Days of Great Nonfiction: Little By Little

Little by LittleLittle by Little: A Writer’s EducationLittle by Little: A Writer's Education by Jean Little by Jean Little

Targeted at the children for whom she typically writes, Little’s autobiography is still a compelling read for adults. Her strength and perseverance is developed at a young age as she was bullied by other children because of her severely impaired vision.

The book could easily be maudlin or depressing, but instead it’s encouraging and inspiring. She raises important themes that everyone needs to discover, but unlike didactic books that tackle ideas like “being part of the popular crowd” in an eye-rolling way, it’s a natural extension of her experiences and is integrated into her overall story in a smooth way.

I’d recommend this to anyone who wants to become a writer – the encouraging aspects of her book especially shine from that angle.

Publisher’s Description:
Jean Little has led an extraordinary life. Nearly blind from birth, she had what her friends called “bad eyes”. Subjected to ridicule, rejection and bullying, she often withdrew into a world of her own—the world of her imagination.

But she still had to live in the real world, to struggle to make a place for herself, to find friends, even to attend regular classes. Encouraged by her parents, she began to write poetry and stories. By the time she was seventeen, her poetry had been published in a national magazine, and after that she never looked back.

Honest, moving and sometimes very funny, this is an unforgettable account of the joys and pains of childhood and growing up, of family and of love.

31 Days of Great NonfictionBeverly Cleary’s memoir A Girl from YamhillA Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary, has a lot of similarities to Little’s memoir. They both overcame challenging childhoods to find success as authors. I preferred Little’s book just slightly (maybe it was my astonishment over how she became a writer with her vision problems), but Cleary’s is still in print and may be easier to find. Cleary also has a sequel, My Own Two Feet: A MemoirMy Own Two Feet: A Memoir by Beverly Clearly, which is supposed to be terrific as well. I hope to read it soon.

To see all the books featured in 31 Days of Great Nonfiction, go to the series page.

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  1. I remember LOVING Jean Little’s books “From Anna” and “Mine For Keeps” when I was in grade school–both dealt with children with physical disabilities—and I read each of them multiple times. I also remember being intrigued that they were set in Canada, rather than in the US.
    I haven’t thought about those books in years and I’m not even sure they’re still in print–I may need to check the library and see if they still hold up after all this time!
    Thanks for providing me with a nice reading memory!

    • If you reread them, let me know how they are – I’ve never read any of her other books, and have hesitated slightly because of the risk of somewhat ruining her memoir for myself if I dislike her children’s books, even if they are great for children (if that makes sense.)

  2. Another great one, similar to this, is a biography on Katherine Paterson by Alice Cary and put out by The Learning Works for their Meet the Author Series. She tells of her struggles with growing up as a missionary child transplanted back to the States. Her difficulties making friends led her to write such greats as “The Bridge to Terabithia,” “Jacob Have I Loved,” and “The Great Gilly Hopkins.” Fascinating story of resilience and faith! May be hard to find, though. I bought mine when our library was purging old titles.

    • That does sound similar, and like one I’d enjoy. I love Katherine Paterson! Thanks for the heads-up – I’ll see if I can find it. 🙂

  3. This is another fantastic pick. I will also need to check out the Cleary memoir, because I read many of her books when I was a child.


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