Friday, May 11, 2012
House Held Up By Trees. written by Ted Kooser and illustrated by Jon Klassen. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2012. $19.00 ages 6 and up
Ted Kooser sure knows how to write a compelling story about nature and its ability to sustain itself, despite our best efforts to keep it from doing so. While we tend to try and keep it under our control, it consistently proves that it will get the better of us when push comes to shove!
The house that is the setting for this story stands next to a dense copse of trees and shelters a man and his young children. The father wants to keep the land surrounding that house pristine. So, he carefully mows every square inch, and keeps any tree seedlings from taking root by pulling them from the ground manually if need be. Never another tree dares show its leafy beginnings in any spot close to the house!
When the children leave home, the father continues mowing his lawn with precise perfection. The yard work becomes cumbersome and he makes the difficult decision to sell. It seems to have no appeal for a new buyer, and remains uninhabited for a long period of time. The result is that the house falls into ruin, with a leaking roof and sagging walls. Left to its own devices, nature does what nature does. The seeds take root in the lawn and along the foundation of the house, watered by rain and without any constrictions. While the house itself rots and begins to lose its shape, the trees that have taken root provide a barrier to total destruction and lift it up into their leafy branches.
Listen to this accomplished writer's apt description:
"... they grew bigger and stronger, they held it
together as if it was a bird’s nest in the fingers of their branches."
I am happily becoming quite familiar with Jon Klassen's artwork. He seems particularly prolific lately and he never ceases to impress with the moody palette that adds visual meaning to the words of the books whose pages are graced by his talent. Here he uses yellow, red and muted green to show the spare expanse of lawn, the father removed from his children and their lives, and the solitary house standing apart from the beauty of its natural surroundings. His use of light and shadow add to the beauty and power of nature, allowing the reader to see the aching sadness of the barren yard alongside the joyous abundance in the nearby woods.
It is a story I read again and again for the beauty in the telling. Ted Kooser fills his tale with rich and meaningful language, and the glorious power of a natural setting. There is something about it that consoles the heart as we watch the house become part of nature once more.