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Review of Building Our House

Building Our House
by Jonathan Bean; illus. by the author
Primary    Farrar    48 pp.
1/13    978-0-374-38023-6    $17.99    g

Drawing on childhood memories from his own family’s house construction (see author’s note), Bean creates an engaging story as well as a glimpse into a warm family setting. A little girl narrates, and her childlike voice provides an immediacy that removes any hint of nostalgia. She relates her contributions not as they are but as she perceives them in all their exaggerated glory; illustrations tell a different tale. For example, when she observes that “bad weather slows our work but doesn’t stop it,” readers see Mom and Dad trudging through the snow with building supplies while the little girl and her smaller brother go sledding. Similarly, once the frame is completed, the narrator indicates a flurry of activity: “We start our work inside. Our plans show us where to place walls that will make the rooms.” Here youngsters will see the girl curled up asleep beside a newly installed woodstove. Other details, such as Mother’s pregnancy and the birth of a new baby, appear only in the muted watercolors outlined in pen and ink. Detailed steps in the process are broken down into one- or two-sentence captions for half-page, unframed panels, while moments of greater import, such as setting the corners for the foundation, receive full- and double-page spreads. The circular shapes of trees, hills, and even the Airstream-like trailer the family lives in during construction clearly show that this is not just a house but a cozy home.

From the January/February 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Betty Carter

Betty Carter, an independent consultant, is professor emerita of children’s and young adult literature at Texas Woman’s University.

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