Review of The Blue House

The Blue House
by Phoebe Wahl; illus. by the author
Primary    Knopf    40 pp.    g
8/20    978-1-9848-9336-9    $17.99
Library ed.  978-1-9848-9337-6    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-1-9848-9338-3    $10.99

Wahl’s picture book tells an affecting story about loss and starting over. In it, interdependent text and art channel a Molly Bang–like artistic style (and emotional intelligence) to follow Leo and his dad, occupants of the ever-so-humble titular blue house. “The paint was peeling and the roof was mossy. There were leaks and creaks. And when the wind blew, the whole thing shook. But it was theirs.” Leo and his dad’s easy companionability and resourceful attitude toward making-do in their old house present a picture of father-son idyll. (And it’s notable to see a single-father, working-class household represented.) Then gentrification arrives in their neighborhood, undercutting the small family’s sense of security in their house as “theirs.” The landlord’s letter seals their fate: the blue house has been sold and is slated for demolition. They must move. Leo’s anger at this news shifts the emotional tone, and earlier scenes of joyful living-room dance parties give way to Leo’s “special scream solo” as his dad “shreds” on guitar. The calm after this storm is occupied by packing, and then by a healing act of painting pictures on the bare walls of the blue house to say goodbye. This moment anticipates a supremely satisfying conclusion when Leo and his dad find a way to make their new house feel like a home, and themselves less blue.

From the July/August 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Megan Dowd Lambert
Megan Dowd Lambert

Megan Dowd Lambert is an instructor at Simmons University’s Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. For nearly ten years she also worked in the education department of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

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