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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Building Our House, written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast Books, 2013. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"On a clear, cold night
Dad sets the corners of the
 foundation by the North Star.
One wall will face north to
ward off the wind, one east to
welcome the morning, one south
to soak in the sun, and one west to
see out the day. When the weather
warms, the ground softens and
Grandpa visits with his backhoe."

Oh, I LOVE this book! My admiration for Jonathan Bean's work is endless. At Night (FSG, 2007) will forever have a place on my 'keepers' shelf. And now this one...what a wonderful look at a very special time in his life. This is nonfiction at its best!

In an author's note, he says:

"This book is dedicated to my family and is based on my parents' experiences of buying an old field and living in a small house-on-wheels while they worked on building a house for their family. Instead of a year and a half, as in this story, it took every scrap of spare time and five years to complete."

Just as that venture together was an act of love, so too, is this beautifully rendered illustrated book. He has so much to share with his audience. In fact, much of what happens in the story is never stated in the clear and telling text that accompanies the process of building. Every single image plays a role in the telling. There is much to see and admire. Then, go back and read it all over again!

The old field is pictured on the opening endpapers. It provides a pastoral quiet for the work to be undertaken. The title page shows the family (all four of them) loading up their truck, all hands on deck and working together. It's off to the country for them.

It looks beautiful, even to a city slicker like me. The trees are majestic, a cat prowls the perimeter, the  family seem prepared for the work ahead. Tools, plans, a truck willing to haul all needed equipment and they are ready to get to work. Planning is the key. It isn't long until temporary housing is in place by the old oak tree. All that's needed now is water and electricity...the next part of the plan.

Some of the work gets underway before winter sets in. Rocks are cleared, materials brought on site and then it's wait for the warmth of spring when real excitement builds and we watch their every new achievement. With help when needed the summer work brings them close to being able to move from their tiny house-on-wheels to their brand new home. With the arrival of a wood stove, the family is ready to brave the stormy blast of winter in their new home.

While the text gives the audience a up close and personal look at the many aspects of house building, Jonathan Bean's incredible illustrations tell a variety of other stories as well. Young readers will take note of the cat that keeps turning up, and might even remember that it has been there since the very first day. We watch the two small children (our narrator included) as they learn much about helping out and the many nuances of house building. Taking careful note, they might even see the mom's middle getting bigger as the days go by. When they are ready to move in, they have an addition to their family and much to celebrate.

I've read it numerous times and each time I see something new! It is a perfect book to share with a loved little one, to take the time to pore over and talk about all the little delights that this creative and accomplished artist adds for our enjoyment.  Don't miss the author's note and the family photos that he includes to show his own family hard at work building the home where he and his three sisters grew up.

Then, move on to the endpapers. Charming!

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