My favorite childhood book was, and still is, Andrew Henry’s Meadow, by Doris Burn. To the right is the Weekly Reader copy I’ve had since the 1970’s–you need to buy it for your young architect!
It’s the compelling story of a child inventor and builder unappreciated by his family and determined to strike out on his own. To a child, this book illustrated facinating possibilities in building places that were personal. Each was perfectly sited, scaled, and suited to it’s owner.
Little did I know, the book would become a key ingredient in propelling me toward architecture. Let me share a few photos of my book’s pages.
The story is about Andrew Henry, and his building projects that eventually overwhelm his family’s tolerance. So he decides to set out and build elsewhere. One by one, his friends, with their unique interests, do the same and join him in a distant meadow. Andrew Henry constructs houses suitable to each’s interests in what becomes a small village.
Just look at these illustrations! There are over 30 in the book, cleverly woven along the pages and words.
Doris Burn was not an architect, but her drawings are classic architectural renderings. In black and white, they had a simplicity that seemed a possibility for a young man with a pencil. Soft edges, contrasting fore and backgrounds, proper perspective, and the sketchy but realistic nature of the story seem very real. Yet there is a imperceptibly cartoon nature to each one. Sometimes the houses are a bit out of proportion or level. Sometimes natural plant features, people, or animal forms are slightly exaggerated. In a friendly, approachable manner, Burn contemplates the very serious maturation in growing up.
Supposedly this is just a child’s book, but a young architectural student would do very well to represent such clear notions of an architectural idea. Each child’s interest is clearly but cleverly represented in his or her home. I think this is what makes the book so compelling. Who doesn’t imagine a home ideally suited to their passions, tastes, and preferences?
Great architecture is expressive. Andrew Henry’s Meadow faithfully represents childhood intrigue the same way adults imagine places for impassioned living, creative work, exotic dining, or inspired worship.
The book also fairly represents considerations for situating each house on the land so that its interests are best fulfilled. For example, Alice’s house is high within a tree because she likes birds. She doesn’t just look at them from a far. Her home is submerged in the very environment she relishes. Other children’s homes are underground, in a castle with a moat, or on a fishing bridge. Andrew Henry’s own home is a mature place of repose to observe the peace of the meadow and his friends.
This is a book I still page through at least once a year. I know that there are staggering amounts of full color books and ever-flashing multi-media entertainments at children’s thumb tips these days. But I think the elegant, hand-crafted simplicity of Andrew Henry’s Meadow is a unique inspiration for fostering the tangible creativity and rational exploration that children need.