Review of The House by the Lake

The House by the Lake
by Thomas Harding; illus. by Britta Teckentrup
Primary, Intermediate    Candlewick Studio    48 pp.    g
9/20    978-1-53621-274-7    $17.99

The titular dwelling was the weekend home of Harding’s great-grandparents in Germany, built by his great-grandfather nearly a century ago. Readers experience the peace and idyll of the place, inhabited by “a kind doctor and his cheery wife” and their four children; several spreads of lyrical text and serene illustrations depict a warm-hearted, carefree, sun-dappled setting. It’s not long, however, before the Nazis descend, forcing the family from their home. A new family arrives, “carrying suitcases and musical instruments and love,” but the war soon means that they, too, must leave rather than fight for the Nazis. The house is once again empty — then it’s temporarily used as a shelter for those fleeing persecution; then it’s witness to the Berlin Wall’s rise and fall (and inhabited by a man who informed on his neighbors); then it falls into disrepair. And then the author arrives and fixes it up “until it shone like new…Once again the house by the lake was happy.” An appended author’s note very helpfully fills in the blanks of the occasionally vague main text. We learn more about the real people who moved in and out of the dwelling (it is here that we learn Harding’s family was Jewish; and more about that spying inhabitant), and find out that it now serves as a “center for education and reconciliation.” Teckentrup’s evocative textured and layered mixed-media illustrations beautifully reflect the bucolic setting in times of both familial repose and, chillingly, unthinkable evil.

From the September/October 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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