This House, Once by Deborah Freedman (9781481442848, Amazon)
Simple and profound, this picture book by a master author/illustrator takes a look at the wonder behind everyday objects like a house. The door was once a huge oak tree. The stones were raised from deep underground. The bricks came from mud that was baked hard. The windows were once sand. The book takes a quiet and focused look at the transformation of materials into the items that surround us.
I find myself unable to capture in words the beauty of this quiet book. It has a gorgeous meditative quality to it, a look at the importance of the history of our things, their origins and the skill that it took to make them. Freedman manages to convey all of that with simple words and taking a look at where all of the parts of the house came from one after another. The ending wraps it all up, tying it all back to the front door as the house comes to life around the reader.
Freedman’s art is dreamy and soft. She creates clouds and leaves with watercolors that feather on the page. Young animals play together in the natural settings that the objects originated in. There are puddles, mud, stones underground, and more. Then the house, solid and warm, lit with by a fireplace, still open to dreams.
A brilliant picture book that will entrance young readers, little builders and budding scientists. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Busy-Busy Little Chick by Janice N. Harrington, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Mama Nsoso and her chicks needed a new home. They spent each night shivering and cold in their dark, damp nest. So Mama Nsoso said that tomorrow they would start work on their new home. But the first day, Mama Nsoso found worms to eat and decided to eat rather than build a house. The family shivered through another night. The next day there were crickets to eat and no work was done. Except by Little Chick who set out to gather grasses and mud to create their new home. His hard work resulted in a fine new home for them, and then he was off finding himself some delicious bugs to eat.
Harrington writes like a storyteller. Her words flow beautifully when shared aloud. She has reworked a classic fable from the Nkundo people of Central Africa and throughout has woven in Lunkundo words from their language. She has also added lots of sounds to the book, so there are wonderful patterns that emerge as the hen and her chicks move through their day. She clearly enjoys wordplay and creating rhymes and rhythms, all of which make for a great book to share aloud.
Pinkney’s art is large and bold, filled with warm yellows and oranges. He has created images of the hen and her little family isolated and floating in cold blues. They are brilliant orange, evoking the warmth of family and shelter. His art is simple but filled with moving lines and playfulness with white space.
A great pick for spring story times, don’t be chicken to share this one. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Building Our House by Jonathan Bean
Told through the eyes of a young girl, this picture book chronicles her family’s move from the city to the country. There in a bare field, they are going to build their own home. The family works for a year and a half on their house, living in a very cozy trailer while they complete enough of the house to live in it. Slowly the house takes shape from pegging out the corners to digging out the foundation to the incredible use of hand tools to work on the lumber for the frame. Through it all, the entire family is involved in the process and what an amazing process it is!
There are plenty of lumber, rocks, trucks and construction in the book to keep children intrigued. It is great to see a construction book where children are right in the middle of things, helping and getting fully engaged and dirty. The story is based off of Bean’s own childhood when his own parents built their family home from the ground up. It is told from his older sister’s perspective. I think that is what really comes through in this story. It is intensely personal but also wonderfully detailed so that children really get the feel of what it is to spend over a year building a home.
Bean’s writing and illustrations work beautifully together. The illustrations are filled with small touches like the cats who join the family. The seasons rush in and out, changing plans and creating a colorful background for the story. This is a house that honors the site it is built on with all of the nature around it, the book does as well.
Get this into the hands of young construction enthusiasts definitely! But it has appeal far beyond that since it is a story of family at its heart. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Too Tall Houses by Gianna Marino
Rabbit and Owl live right next door to one another at the top of a hill in separate small houses. Rabbit likes growing vegetables and Owl likes the view of the forest. They were good friends. Until one day, Rabbit’s vegetables got so tall that they blocked Owl’s view of the forest. Rabbit refused to cut his vegetables down, so Owl built his house taller. Then Owl’s house was blocking the sun from reaching Rabbit’s garden, so Rabbit built a taller house and put his garden on the roof. So started the competition to have the tallest house. And my, do the houses ever get taller and taller!
Marino does a great job of telling a story that has the heart and soul of a classic folktale. The friendship and competition between the two animals carries a subtle lesson that is masked effectively in humor. She doesn’t back away from carrying the tale to its very funny extreme ending. The story is kept simple, allowing the illustrations to carry much of the story forward.
Marino’s illustrations have the colors of fall and warmth. From the orange branches Owl uses to create his home to the terra cotta bricks of Rabbit’s, the colors are bright and autumnal. As the houses grow into the sky, the colors are cooler, emphasizing that they are leaving the comfort of their warm homes and creating homes simply to beat someone else.
This is a funny, warm and memorable read that will get your audience laughing. Perfect for reading aloud any time of year. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
House Held Up by Trees by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klassen
This is the story of a family and a house. When the house was new, it stood upon a newly planted lawn where the trees had been removed. It was bare, not even a stump left behind. On either side of the bare lot were trees of all sorts, the kind that spread seeds and scents. Two children lived in the new house and often played in the trees at the edges, watching their father care for the lawn. Their father mowed down all of the small tree seedlings before they could get started at all. But the children grew up, the man moved away to be closer to them, and the house was left alone. Alone except for the trees, which grew and took over the barren lawn, and eventually lifted the house high on their shoulders.
Kooser writes with amazing depth here, each sentence resonant with meaning and feeling. While the book can be read more lightly, the joy here is in that dark deep that lies behind the lines. The story plays with man vs. wilderness, the American obsession with lawns, children being pulled to the edges to find their own wild spaces, and the return to nature in the end. The writing is beautiful because of that ever-present ache that is there, the tug of the trees, the dance of the seeds.
Klassen has illustrated this book with such delicacy that it shows he feels that same amazing pull. He lets us peek at the house from the shelter of the woods, our eyes almost aching with the bareness in the sun. He captures the tree seeds in flight from high above, allowing us to fly with them and plant ourselves too. He plays with light, shadow and darkness, just as Kooser does.
This book is poetry, without the stanzas. It is a picture book that has depth, courage and looks deeply into our relationship with nature and with our families. Beautiful. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from library copy.