Monday, November 30, 2009

The Old House

I apologize for the absence. Life got in the way and I haven't been reading or writing as much. But rest assured I'm back, with a ton of great new children's books to talk about.

I’m rapidly becoming a huge fan of Henry Cole’s artwork (and not just because his website has to be one of the best things I've ever seen). I wrote earlier about the beautiful book Honk here, a collaboration between Pamela Duncan Edwards and Henry Cole. Since then I’ve been picking up more and more of Cole’s books. The Old House is a collaboration again by the magnificent duo and is a cute and inspiring little story.

Like Honk, The Old House is a book about hope. But instead of Mimi with her eternal optimism, this story follows an old house that has been vacant for such a long time that it has given up hope. It’s a run down old house that is beginning to doubt it’s own worth. The price has been reduced and the house worries that no one will ever live in it again. Its friends (birds, an oak tree, and the wildflowers) try to give the house hope, reminding it of how useful and strong it still is. But as families come and go, it has given up. Until one family comes down the street and admire the house, even with its sagging sad face. But they claim they cannot afford it. They leave and the house is even more depressed. The friends keep trying to cheer up the house and when the family does come back a couple days later, the house does try to stand up straighter. But then they go away again and it really fears for its life. When a rumble shakes the street, the house is convinced that it is bulldozers coming to knock it down. But instead the family is back and ready to move in. And the house is fixed up and it (and its friends) live happily ever after with the new family.

It’s so rare when you find a story about a character that is simply not the happy type. The house in this book is very much an Eeyore character with a “nothing will ever go my way” mentality. But it is still a house that’s willing (sometimes) to try. Instead this story for me was more about friendship. About have people (or things) around you that are willing to build you up. The flowers, the birds, and the trees surrounding the house do just that and when the time comes everyone wins out. It is a sweet story about hope and redemption. Henry Cole’s illustration are wonderful as always. The house has been anthropomorphized with some sad eyes, a door for a mouth, and even a sagging chin of a porch. We visibly see the house straighten up when it finally decides to impress the family. And I’m a huge fan of anything being anthropomorphized. I know that people say not to do it but I think there is so many ways to make a story that much sweeter with a couple eyes and some facial expressions. We see the transformation of the house along with hearing the tone change. Edwards gives us verbal clues as well to the state of mind of the house. We can hear the hope finally return only to be dashed again. That makes the ending that much sweeter. I don’t normally cheer for a house. But in this case I’ll make an exception.

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