Written by Ted Kooser, Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press, 2012
Not far from here, I have seen a house held up by the hands of trees. This is its story.
The plot in a nutshell: An abandoned house is overtaken by trees
The house sits in the middle of a large empty field. All the trees around it have been removed. A man lives there with his son and daughter, who like to visit the nearby woods, which are so thick that they have to crawl under the bushes. The father takes good care of his yard, pulling up all the sprouting trees before they have a chance to grow. The children grow up and move away and the father grows too old to care for the yard properly, so he moves closer to his children. The house goes up for sale, but no one is interested in buying it. The yard overgrows and the house falls into disrepair, with peeling paint and broken windows. The saplings around the house begin to grow, lifting the house off its foundation and holding it together, until it sits in the branches, fully off the ground.
Author Ted Kooser is a former United States Poet Laureate, which should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this very lyrical story. He often wrote poetry about family and the passage of time and this book definitely covers both of those subjects, in a way that somehow manages to be lovely and sad and hopeful all at the same time. Reading through the book a second time, I got the idea that the story is being told from the point of view of the trees on the edge of the house’s property, and that they are watching the family and stepping in to protect the house when the family is gone.
The digital and gouache illustrations are everything we’ve come to expect from the wonderful Jon Klassen, working here in a color palette that looks as though it came from an Andrew Wyeth painting. The artwork gives this story a sense of melancholy, particularly in the pictures of the abandoned house, but it’s so beautiful that you find yourself going back to look at the pictures again and again. I am not sure how young kids will feel about this book. It seems almost geared more towards adults, but I know kids who would also enjoy it, so I have to fall back on my standard recommendation to read it yourself first and use your best judgment with what you know of your audience.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that when humans walk away, nature walks on in.