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Five questions for Jonathan Bean

Jonathan Bean

Photo: Taeeun Yoo

Jonathan Bean won a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for At Night, a perfect little picture book celebrating night in the city. With Building Our House (5–8 years, Farrar), he moves to the country (and a much larger trim size!) to show us a home and a family growing from the ground up. Based on the author-illustrator’s own childhood, the book combines a practical introduction to house-building with a commemoration of family bonds.

1. Were your parents hippies?

JB: My parents tell me they were not hippies. There were certain facets of that culture they didn’t identify with. For them, getting back to the earth was related to pragmatic issues such as the thriftiness of growing their own vegetables and not wanting to be weighed down by a mortgage. Though, during the seventies, they did subscribe to Mother Earth News, so . . .

2. Would you consider yourself a town mouse or a country mouse?

JB: In either location I need a dose of the other to keep me sane. That wasn’t always the case. Cities were once very frightening to me. I recall returning to the country from my first New York City apartment search and thinking, “I do not belong there!” So, it was thrilling to discover how much I loved the city. Now that I am once again in a quieter locale, I can’t go more than two months without a dose of urban energy.

3. How did you divvy up the storytelling in Building Our House between the words and the pictures?

JB: At some point, looking at one of my textless dummies, I realized that the basic story could be easily followed with images only; they carry much of the process information. However, words were better at providing anecdotal details, like the parents buying land from a farmer, the owls calling, or the bad winter weather arriving early. These things would be prohibitively complicated to express in images.

4. What is the most useful home repair tip you know? 

JB: I know from personal experience that humming a soothing melody helps unclog a drain.

5. On the last spread, the first night in their new house, the family reads a book together. What book do you think it is?

JB: Wow, there were so many books we read together as a family. A few stand out, though, because I recall my mother being so moved by particular passages she had trouble getting through them. One of those was Where the Red Fern Grows, which has a very tragic ending that I remember affected me for days. In this case, since my sister is smiling, I’m going to say it’s Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House. The ending of that story, when the Little House finds itself peacefully resettled in the country, seems very appropriate for this occasion!

From the January 2013 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Virginia Rinkel says:

    Nice interview with Jonathan Bean. I too remember Virginia Lee Burton’s “The Little House”. And yes, the ending of that story is very appropriate here. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Nadia Montelongo says:

    Hey Jonathan! I absolutely love At Night. It’s one of my favorite books. I also really enjoyed the painting you painted for me! It’s the best feature in my room. Every time I look at it, it makes me smile because it looks so real and I love paintings.

  3. Great tip, Jonathan. I’m going to try humming a soothing melody to unclog drains from now on.

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