Lois Lenski’s “Small” and “Little” Books

I remember . . . 

The silence of the imposing building gives me chills. Maybe kids don’t really belong here.

But look! In this room, everything is just the right size for me. Shelves are loaded with books, but I can reach all but the very top. Oh, my! Kid-sized tables with little round stools attached. And Mom is leaving us here by ourselves while she goes to look for books for herself. 

All of this, and books just my size! 

I can tell from the pictures that these books are old. And the smell. For me, this will always be what a proper library smells like.

I’m almost positive The Little Family is one of the first books I ever checked out from our county library. Published in 1932, the illustrations were already quaint when I was a child in the early 1960s. I think that was part of the fascination. They were like peering into an old-fashioned dollhouse.

Lenski said she got the idea for the “Small” books by watching her young son play with his toy trucks and airplanes. She realized he wasn’t imagining the vehicles as characters, but rather, that he was seeing himself as the driver or pilot. 

These simple little books are for your youngest listeners. Children will be drawn into the delight of words as they associate them with everyday activities.  

At first your child will look at the picture as you say, “The little Auto stops at a Filling Station. Mr. Small buys five gallons of gas.” As he gains more experience and makes observations about life around him, you can have conversations about what that man in the green pants is doing. If your child has ever seen a gas station attendant (say, if you live in Oregon), it’s unlikely he’s seen a gravity-fed gas pump. Voila! There you have a child-sized history and science lesson.

Young children learn to talk by hearing you name things, and repeating the names and simple phrases. These books are perfect for that.  

“‘Yip-pee!–Yip-pee! Ride ‘em, cowboy!’”


The Small Family in their automobile.
Papa Small shaving.
Policeman Small spends his day helping people.

Several of Lenski’s “Small” and “Little” books have been published as board books. Most are available in hardcover editions, though some are quite expensive. While it’s not necessary to break the bank to collect all of these, there is value in giving your children a taste of bygone days in pictures. Check your local library as well.

Lois Lenski “Small” and “Little” Books

The Little Family, 1932

The Little Auto, 1934

The Little Sailboat, 1937

The Little Airplane, 1938

The Little Train, 1940 

The Little Farm, 1942

The Little Fire Engine, 1946

Cowboy Small, 1949

Papa Small, 1951

Policeman Small, 1962

Several of these are also available at Bookshop.org.

You can learn more about Lois Lenski and many of her books at Biblioguides.