Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin




Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Passionate Potential

There's something magical about the combination of two little words, What if...? with pencil and paper. Whether you are writing or drawing you are only limited by the wandering of your mind as it leaps from one possibility to another.  No matter your age, child, teen, or adult, dreams are a source of endless delight full of potential.

In his E. B. White Read Aloud Winner, If I Built A Car (Dutton, 2005), author/illustrator Chris Van Dusen introduced readers to Jack, a young man with hidden talents and a very vivid imagination.  His new title, If I Built a House, brings eight-year-old Jack back along with his marvelous musings.  A step through the door into Jack's world is a step into wacky, wild wonder.

Jack, in the backyard, said to his mother,
This house is OK, but it's like any other.
It's boxy and boring and basically bland.
It's nothing at all like the house I have planned.

Jack is thinking leaps and bounds into days yet to come, designing like an engineer with all the cozy comforts of home sweet home.  His mother and dog step into his vision as easily as clients during a real estate tour.

From kitchen to living room to bathroom and bedroom each amazing accessory is duly noted.  There's an astonishing Kitchen-o-Mat to prepare meals and do clean-up, too.  Spinning chairs, a series of trampolines and a pit full of balls provide for playful pastimes in the family space.  A car wash style Scrub-a-Dub-Dub leaves you squeaky clean before you zoom up, up, up to the glass tower for sleeping with a view.

Sliding down from the scenic heights Jack and company have more rooms to investigate.  Yes, there's an Art Room with a wall for drawing, a Flying Room with no gravity at the flick of a switch, a Racetrack Room complete with cars and a suspended route with loops, dips and curves, and a Fish Tank Room completely underwater with creatures of every size and weight.  With a jet-propelled whoosh, one more room is left to enjoy.  Yes, that Jack is quite the boy.


Never forced, flawless, flowing, every two lines of the narrative by Van Dusen rhyme with a rhythm paced to perfection.  His protagonist speaks with an emcee's flair, a knowledgeable guide, leading his family here and there, up and down and all around.  Word choices roll off the tongue, stimulate the mind and create an atmosphere of futuristic fun filled with humor.


Using gouache to render all his illustrations Chris Van Dusen begins to engage readers with his matching jacket and cover; unfolded the back has Jack's dog sniffing a small house with the words, Think big! above.  The opening endpapers picture blueprint miniatures of eleven house designs.  Jack's completed drawings for his house cover the closing endpapers.

A bright, bold color palette reminiscent of the 50s and 60s in turquoise, teal, shades of green, red, orange and golden yellow, cheerfully invites readers to participate.  Items from the title page painting are placed on the dedication page tying the two together.  Details such as bits of Tinkertoy, Lincoln Logs, an Alexander Calder mobile suspended from the ceiling in the living room, and pink and black tile in the bathroom all recreate the feeling of this era. With the exception of the first and last pages the remaining illustrations are spread across two pages; blissful exuberance in every single one.


Readers will be more than happy to repeatedly join Jack, his mother and perky puppy pal as they travel from room to room in If I Built a House by Chris Van Dusen.  I guarantee readers and listeners alike will be anxious to plan their own unique spaces replete with gadgets and extras straight from their fertile fields of fancy.  Who wouldn't want to live in a house with all the fascination of an amusement park?

A link to Van Dusen's website is embedded in his name above.  It includes an excellent FAQ.  This is a link to a fascinating video Reading Rockets interview.  International Reading Association Reading Today Online posted an article, 5 Questions With...Chris Van Dusen (IF I BUILT A HOUSE) which offers hints of extras included in his illustrations; nods to another famous author/illustrator.

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