Review of Home in the Woods

Home in the Woods
by Eliza Wheeler; illus. by the author
Primary    Paulsen/Penguin    40 pp.    g
10/19    978-0-399-16290-9    $17.99

When six-year-old Marvel, her seven siblings, and their newly widowed mother are forced to leave their farm and move into an abandoned tar-paper shack deep in the woods, it “doesn’t seem like much of a home.” As the seasons pass, however, Marvel and her family members discover the simple treasures their new life offers: in summer, a stream of “cool, clear water,” good soil in which to plant their seeds, and a “blooming berry patch with sweet jewels of blue and red”; canning preserves in autumn and playing “General Store” (when they cannot afford to shop at the real one); an unexpected feast for the “kings and queens of the forest” after a successful winter hunt. By spring, Marvel realizes the shack “looks different now — warm and bright and filled up with love.” Based on Wheeler’s grandmother’s childhood during the Great Depression (per the appended author’s note), this tender tribute avoids sentimentality in favor of honest, child-centered observations. The illustrations, created with dip pens, India ink, and watercolors, cleverly point out details of the family’s surroundings via labels (of the shack’s contents, the children’s chores, flower names, etc.); the text’s descriptions are memorably poetic (glass jars of preserves and vegetables are stacked in the cellar “like buried treasure”; “snow falls in a blanket of diamonds”). Wheeler’s precise figure-drawing style captures the difficult aspects of the situation and, using numerous shades of green, brown, blue, and yellow, contrasts them against the beauty and warmth of the natural setting.

From the November/December 2019 Horn Book Magazine.

Cynthia K. Ritter
Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is managing editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons University.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Community matters. Stay up to date on breaking news, trends, reviews, and more.

Get access to reviews of books, ebooks, and more