Moving in June, 2023, put me in the mood to find some good picture books about homes. Our new house is graced with porches front and back and chock full of built-in bookshelves for ALL the books, so the hands will never be empty while rocking on said porches. Whether you’re moving or you’re all nested snug and tight, these books explore what makes a house a home, and all the ways we feather our nests.
Homes comes in all shapes and sizes, especially if you’re an animal. There are lots of reasons to love this simple, rhyming picture book. The feel of the thick, matte pages is lovely, and the detailed illustrations are full of things to point at, from a fox burrowed in his hole to the owls in the tree. But down in that hole, with the mole, we also see the roots of vegetables stretching through the soil, and worms curled in the brown earth. What I’m saying is, the illustrations show more than what that text points to, and the text is wonderfully rhymed.
Shovel and plow
construct and flit,
rummage and roam,
gather and knit.
On the two pages where the previous four lines are found, we see a mole (shoveling and plowing), bees (constructing and flitting), and an eagle and a deer gathering sticks for a nest, or grass for a soft bed. Have you ever thought about knitting a home? Sweet. Or what moles, bees, deer and eagles have in common? They all have homes. And there are these great questions interspersed, leading us from “Do you see the home builders?” to, “Do you see the babies,” and “Do you see the families?” These homes are built for a purpose! To house the growing animal families. And to tie a bow on it, we read, “Home is our earth, shared by us all.” Ahhh.
I am a huge fan of Sophie Blackall, her illustrations capture personality quirks and scenes that make you wish you could step into the page. And the text, it has this great occasional rhyme and wonderful rhythm that works for young kids and adults, like this line that spans a couple pages, “Over a hill, at the end of the road, by a glittering stream that twists and turns, stands a house where twelve children were born and raised, where they learned to crawl in the short front hall . . .”
The house has just as much personality as the people it holds, bearing witness to the daily lives of the family. There are marks on the doorframe to record growing kids, the kitchen where meals are prepared, chores are done, and a sick baby is nursed. The kids pin pictures on their bedroom walls and grow older and move away and still the farmhouse stands. The story isn’t over.
Rain and raccoons sneak in, and one winter a bear sleeps in the basement and a tree slowly grows through the floor until one day . . . and this is the thing that I especially love, a woman buys the farmhouse and finds old dresses and wallpaper stamped by potatoes and a button made from a shell, and even though it’s falling down, not salvageable, she finds a way to save it. To infuse it with story and people and give it back its memories, by making the book you hold in your hands.
Sophie Blackall bought that farmhouse. The illustrations are made with scraps she found, and her story is imagined after speaking to the neighbors who knew the owners. What a treasure of a book! It’s a reminder that our homes are filled with stories, ours and the ones that have come before, back to the hands that built them.
Miss. Twiggley’s Tree by Dorothea Warren Fox
There’s a common theme with some of the books this month, focusing on those who are a bit different. Miss. Twiggley (don’t you love her name?) lives in a house in a tree “with a dog named Puss and a color TV,” and she’s quite happy. “She did what she liked and she liked what she did, but when company came, Miss Twiggley hid.”
She’s a bit shy around people, who think she’s odd, so she stays in her tree and sends her dog to do the shopping in town. (She’s on great terms with the bears, though, and they stop by often, shedding on her couch and mussing her tidy treehouse.) The mayor’s wife is especially offended by Miss. Twiggley.
But when the rain comes and the town floods, people flock to Miss. Twiggley’s tree, grateful for her oddity, even the mayor’s wife! They all become friends, and Miss. Twiggley isn’t so shy. The simple rhyming text and pen and ink illustrations make this book accessible for younger readers and it’s got some important truth. We should celebrate our differences, and we can overcome our shyness when we take our eyes off ourselves.
And Miss Twiggley found out
Something wonderful, too:
When emergencies come
You don’t think about you.
Moving the Millers’ Minnie Moore Mine Mansion: A true story by Dave Eggers, illustrations by Júlia Sardà
I didn’t look at who wrote this book when I first picked it off the shelf at my local Indie, Bookpeople. I loved the wry humor, and wasn’t at all surprised to see Dave Eggers wrote it! The way this story (which is already pretty incredible) is told makes it twice as enjoyable. The first line had me hooked “Like all of the best stories, this takes place in Idaho.”
This is a TRUE STORY. A widow and her son moved their house out of town so they could raise their pigs, and by move I mean they had their house rolled four miles down the road, which took about a month. And they lived in it as logs were slowly, slowly moved from the back to the front of the line so it could keep rolling . . . incredible.
I’ve always had a thing for books that are based on true stories, and a thing for Dave Eggers who is smart and funny and clever. And now I have a thing for Júlia Sardà who I somehow just discovered. Adults will love this just as much as kids, and though the text is a bit long for the youngest kiddos it’s easy to read ahead and adapt to their attention span-they’ll still love the story and pics.
One of the many things I find so intriguing about this book is that there is a family of five kids living in a house with no parents in sight. They all have jobs to do, and they do them with smiles on their faces, including the baby whose job is to “look after the mud.” It reminds me of when I was a kid, deep in play, no grown-ups around, and I was the one in charge. I was the one who needed to make dinner (using leaves and bark), and decorate (the fort forged under a hollow bush). How satisfying to see a book where children are doing just that, inhabiting their world fully and independently.
When they read a book with pictures of a “proper house” they set out to make their ramble, shamble home proper, too. They proper up the chicken house and the scarecrow and even the mud, which makes the baby unhappy. In fact, nobody looks very happy. Things go from bad to worse when they realize their attempts to be proper aren’t working, and the baby has gone missing. They find him in a different puddle of mud, and return to their ramble, shamble home contented with the way it is because it’s theirs, and it’s perfect.
Christina Soontornvat captures the essence of what it is to be a kid, but she also makes an eloquent statement about what really matters, and how when we try to be something we’re not, it doesn’t work. Lauren Castillo’s rich illustrations saturate this story with color.
Once again, we meet an unconventional character in this gem I read to my kids when they were little. Old Henry and his parrot move into a tall, thin house in a neighborhood filled with tidy neighbors, but he doesn’t mow his grass or sweep his walk or water his plants. He does stand on the back balcony in his boxers to greet the day and wave at the birds. I really, really love the language:
With money enough to pay the rent,
his books, birds and cooking pots,
he was content,
and never did notice (or else didn’t care)
that people whispered everywhere
is a disgrace.”
His neighbors become more and more annoyed. They try to be nice, twice. They offer to shovel his snow and bring him pies, but Old Henry says no to the shoveling, no thank you to the pies. “Now Henry, too, had had his fill. That night he grumbled, ‘I never will live like the rest of them, neat and the same. I am sorry I came.”
So he moves, and his neighbors start to remember him, sharing stories and they realize they miss him. The rhymes in this text are so great, the page turns brilliant, and Gammell’s illustrations really capture the personality of Old Henry and the neighbors. It ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Old Henry writes a note to the mayor of the town, asking if he mends his gate and shovels the snow, would they not scold his birds and let his grass grow? The end. It’s up to you and your kiddos to wonder and talk about what you think they’ll do, and maybe what you’d do if an “Old Henry” moved into the ‘hood. I like that it goes both ways, both parties realizing they are missing something valuable when apart.
If you’d like a cumulative list of the picture books I’ve recommended, you can find it at my Picture Book shop on Bookshop.org, where every purchase supports independent bookstores. I do received a small commission if books are purchased through my link.