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.

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