Quote of the Month

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




Monday, August 18, 2014

A Place For Everyone

The beauty of the house is order.
The blessing of the house is contentment.
The glory of the house is hospitality.

This portion of a very old poem written beneath a picture one of my colleagues, an art teacher, made for me when I moved into my current home is framed and hanging in my kitchen.  The drawing is of a small colorful cottage with a tall pine tree growing next to it; a quirky quaint abode set in a northern Michigan forest.  The first line always makes me smile; a justification for my tendency toward neatness.   A home for me is a sanctuary, a place to find serenity when needed, but also a place for conversation, laughter and shared meals with cherished friends which speaks to the second and third lines.

When I look at this it reminds me of the needed balance in my daily life as well as in my home.  Julia's House for Lost Creatures (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press) written and illustrated by graphic novelist Ben Hatke is his first picture book.  Julia learns the fine line between too quiet and chaos can be crossed quickly.

Julia's house came to town and settled by the sea.

This first sentence is a clear indication of the fantastical events to come.  It's not typical for houses to come to town; people yes but houses not so much.  Cozy as could be in her favorite chair by the fire that evening, Julia realizes the proverbial pin could be heard if dropped.  The absence of sound is glaring.

Hurrying toward her workshop, she creates a sign to hang outside the front door.  It announces the purpose of her house.  Julia's House for Lost Creatures is an open invitation.  The first arrival is Patched Up Kitty with the singular gift of walking up walls.

All too soon a rather loud banging heralds the next resident, a mournful troll.  Within a handful of moments all kinds of sounds at the door proclaim the presence of all kinds of beings from legend and lore.   Needless to say Julia is definitely surprised.  Ever the gracious hostess they keep her busy. But... 

The din is deafening.  The mess is mounting.  With a shout of 

"EVERYBODY STOP!"

Julia disappears into her workshop for hours and hours.

Emerging with a second sign, an inside sign, order is restored.  (My Mom of many hands make light work fame would have loved this.)  Tucked into bed that night sweet dreams are eluding Julia.  Something is still not right.  It's off to the workshop again.  A final sign and her waiting rewarded, peace is present once again.


An unseen narrator hooks readers from the beginning with the unorthodox appearance by the shore of Julia and her house.  Ben Hatke keeps us engaged with her request for residents, their variety and their disorderly conduct.  His descriptions of peculiar personalities and distinct antics keep readers turning pages in anticipation of...What could possibly happen next?  Julia's inventiveness in solving her predicaments through her creative signage is brilliant.  

As soon as you see the book's dust jacket, you know these lost creatures are not going to be from field and forest.  You also understand by Julia's expression and stance, she enjoys life with intention.  On the back, the troll with the toothy grin playing with Julia's antique record player supplies a huge hint.  Opening and closing endpapers in a dusty green feature an outline of a curling dragon's tail, tiny details from the story appearing on top.

On the initial title page Julia's first visitor is quietly sleeping beneath the title.  A significant, splendid two-page illustration, across the verso, dedication and formal title page depicts exactly how Julia's house moves from place to place.  I like to think of it as a nod to Native American folklore and beliefs as to where our planet resides.  

Ben Hatke alternates his illustration size, perspective and placement to set the pace for his story.  His mastery as a graphic novelist (Zita the Spacegirl trilogy) is evident in his visuals saying more than the text, extending our comprehension of the tale.  For example, accompanying the first words he has five separate elements.  Julia's house comes to a standstill, she runs down the steps, mailbox with post in her hands, raises it over her head, plops it into the ground and leans against it staring out to sea.  Single smaller pictures framed by white space work very well throughout the remaining pages.

The extra details, some I discovered on second and third readings, are a request for readers to become involved in Julia's adventure.  Her work apron, pink high-top sneakers, wavy red hair and energy create an immediate bond.  The bird perched on the trolls head later becomes a companion for the mermaid's rubber ducky.  I'm still wondering about the connection between one of the items on Julia's fireplace mantel and the final twist at the end.

The living room scenes at the beginning and the end are two of my favorite illustrations.  In the first we are given insight into Julia and those things of importance to her.  In the second, less of the room is seen but we still realize the same sense of calm, even though it's been altered by the numerous new residents.


Every reader is going to wish they could live in Julia's House for Lost Creatures.  Ben Hatke has written and illustrated a picture book brimming with magical what-ifs.  I think it would be great fun to think about other guests in this house, what their favorite things to do might be and what tasks they might be assigned.  I would plan on having extra copies in your collections.  This title is going to be a hit with readers. (It's a huge hit with me!)

To discover more information about Ben Hatke and his work follow the link embedded in his name to his website.  This link takes you to an interview of Ben Hatke conducted by teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner at his popular podcast Let's Get Busy.  Author and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Julie Danielson, reviews this title and showcases lots of artwork for this book.

UPDATE:  Here is a series of tweets Ben Hatke has been posting on Twitter after I did this post.




I obtained an ARC of Julia's House for Lost Creatures from my favorite independent bookstore, McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan.  Please visit your nearest independent bookstore to get your copy.  If your public library does not have it on order, submit a request.

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