House Held Up By Trees by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press, $27.95
Before I even opened this book, the cover tossed up a memory – of long country drives, catching glimpses of big houses hidden by high hedges and gates. Sometimes I’d see a peaked roof, or a tall chimney, an overgrown garden, or a long driveway lined with pines. Then there was the small houses, cabins or huts left to decay, or the lonely stone cottage in the middle of nowhere. These images were only flickers – swift flashes out a car window but as a kid, they always lit up my imagination.
This book tells the story of a house built on the edge of a forest and home to two children and their father. While the kids love playing in the cool of the forest, the father prefers to mow his immaculate lawn, removing any stray leaf or twig that blows his way. Years pass, the children become adults, while their now elderly father still fusses over his patch of green, until one day he decides to sell and move closer to the city. The house goes up for sale but no one wants to buy it, instead seeds eventually grow into tress and by the end of the book, the house has returned to the forest and is majestically held aloft by maple, elm, ash and cottonwood.
Written by Pulitzer Prize winning poet Ted Kooser, the melancholy story beautifully captures our need to control our environment and slow down the relentless passing of time. Kooser’s honed text conveys other themes too, giving readers subtle hints about how the children relate to their father – like the house itself, as his children grow up, he gets left behind too.
Jon Klassen’s (I Want My Hat Back) illustrations are no less insightful. Clean and precise, every page reveals a different perspective on the house (we never see inside, only the exterior), from above, from the edges of the forest, each brush stroke captures nature slowly reclaiming what’s theirs.
So who is this book for? It’s difficult to say. Very young readers (three plus) might respond more to the visuals, while old readers (six plus) will have a better chance at picking up the nuances. There’s no right answer. This is a book for anyone who enjoys original story telling and perceptive, haunting illustration.