Having a canine companion affords you great lengths of time for reflection and retrospection. Whether you are ambling up and down the hills of a disc golf course, strolling along the Lake Michigan shoreline, winding through northern Michigan woods or standing in your own backyard, your mind wanders where it might otherwise not go. You wonder about the land and lakes hundreds of years ago, who might have lived there or walked along the same path you do today. It's hard not to believe we are all connected regardless of the dates spanning our lifetimes.
In her newest title author illustrator Deborah Freedman takes these musings one more step. She offers readers an opportunity to explore deeper connections, connections to the gifts given to us by our planet. This house, once (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, February 28, 2017) is both intelligent and beautiful. It has one of the best first sentences I have ever read.
This door was once a colossal oak tree about three hugs around and as high as the blue.
Building from the door which opens into a sanctuary, a home, we are asked to think about stones. Where were they before they became a part of this abode? They were waiting to be awakened.
We have an entrance. We have a foundation. Now come the walls fashioned from the earth; from dirt to the dignity of making a space, a place of hope and happiness for the dwellers therein.
To keep out the seasons, endeavoring to shelter from cold, heat, wind and wet a roof is made. Sturdy hands sculpted shingles from shapes centuries in the making. Let's open the door and step inside to the warmth within these four walls sitting on a secure foundation protected by the created canopy.
Our views are sharpened and framed by tiny elements gathered and heated into a liquid that hardens, transparent and tough. In the glow of dancing light from a fire more moments emerge, allowing us to insert a comma in our thinking. Let's seek, let's learn, let's know.
In words like a lilting melody we are asked by Deborah Freedman to imagine with care and clarity about the beginnings of those elements which comprise our homes. She supplies this refrain by presenting a poetic statement about each of these materials. This artful writing requests us to not only think but to express gratitude. In addition we can't help but wonder even farther back. An oak tree grows from an acorn. And acorn comes from an oak tree but how did the acorn get planted. This train of thought is absolutely marvelous and important.
These stones were once below,
underground, deep asleep...
When you open the dust jacket for This house, once you instantly feel calm envelope you. The deep rich shades of purple, the starry sky and crescent moon allow us to begin to imagine. Is the house in snow or clouds or both? The spot color of red for the door knob and the raised foil for the title are the ultimate finishing touches of design.
The pale lavender hue used for the text on the spine becomes the canvas across the book case. On the front of the case the same shade of foil from the jacket etches the house into the background. On the spine the foil is used again. On the opening and closing endpapers a soft gray, like stones, provides the color. With a page turn we have an initial title page, stones lying in grass. For the formal title page a kitten appears among the stones as oak leaves in clothed in autumn hues drift down across two pages.
Another page turn continues the line of stones but a squirrel, leaping frog and turtle make an appearance as the leaves gather in a pile. A tiny yellow bird hovers above the publication information on the left and the dedication is on the right. You must read it.
A lovely, truly lovely rhythm is made by Deborah with her images rendered in pencil, watercolor, and bits of colored pencil and pan pastel, with an assist from Photoshop. She begins with a white canvas, two pages, with her words on the left and a small but significant illustration on the right. The next two pages are a stunning wordless extension of the first picture adding in her delightful creatures. In these gorgeous two-page visuals she may give us a more panoramic view or take us in close. Some shade of purple unifies all the pages. Careful readers will notice the presence of one animal in all of them from beginning to end, a circle.
One of my many favorite illustrations (They are all stunning in their soft texture and lightness of line and luminosity.) is for the mud. Across two pages we have a light purple sky gently framed in pale blue. Shades of brown form the mud. Grass, stones and oak leaves are placed on this ground. The kitten is slapping the surface, paws socked in dirt. Splashes of mud move upward as the frog happily leaps. A turtle slowly moves toward the frog and kitten. Watching this all this activity is the tiny yellow bird. This picture is filled with life and.... a deep love for our planet.
Right now I have a small stack of books (two) which I want to put under my pillow each night and which are on my desk all day, every day. This house, once written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman is joining this group. This book will go deep into every heart imploring us to think more completely and to move through life with gratitude. This book is one which must be on all bookshelves.
To discover more about Deborah Freedman and her other work take a few moments to visit her website by following the link attached to her name. At the publisher's website you can view interior pages. Artwork from this title and process pictures are featured at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Deborah Freedman is showcase at Life's An Art!.
UPDATE: Deborah Freedman is interviewed by educator and director of The Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival, Dylan Teut on his blog, Mile High Reading, February 23, 2017.