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Review of A House That Once Was

A House That Once Was
by Julie Fogliano; illus. by Lane Smith
Primary    Roaring Brook    48 pp.
5/18    978-1-62672-314-6    $18.99

“Deep in the woods / is a house / just a house / that once was / but now isn’t / a home.” So begins Fogliano’s rhythmic, read-aloud-perfect tale of two children who discover a mysterious abandoned house. As they explore the ramshackle structure, with its broken windows and “trees coming in where the roof used to go,” the pair studies items left inside (a ship in a bottle, paint supplies, a model airplane) that spark their imaginations. Who lived there before, why did they go away, and is the house waiting there longingly for their return? As Fogliano’s text ponders the past, Smith’s illustrations visualize the children’s object-inspired speculations about the place’s previous occupants: an old man dressed like a ship’s captain stares out to sea with a spyglass; a woman paints squirrels in a garden; a boy dreams of flying a plane. Smith uses different but complementary styles of illustration to effectively distinguish the realistic scenes from the imagined ones. For the illustrations of the children’s explorations, he employs a process that creates a textured “blotted line effect” suited to the weathered house, whereas the children’s imaginings appear in Smith’s more familiar angular style, in oil and collage. It’s a poetic and visually striking commentary on both what constitutes a home and the indelible marks we leave on this world.

From the September/October 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Cynthia K. Ritter About Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is associate editor of The Horn Book Guide. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons College.

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