Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Defining Welcome

In my adult life, I have bought and sold ten houses.  Last June I moved into the eleventh house.  In most of those homes, there was a small piece of paper on display I read everyday with these words:

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

I am currently struggling with the first line as organizing my considerable book collection is time consuming, but this eleventh house is slowly becoming a home filled with a happy, tail-wagging canine and her human who both enjoy visitors.

Each individual holds their own meaning of home in their mind and heart.  In The Mouse Who Carried A House On His Back (Candlewick Press, August 30, 2022) written by Jonathan Stutzman with illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault readers come to understand some of those definitions.  They also realize how houses become homes within the context of welcoming.

Vincent was a mouse with boots on his feet,
a hat on his head, and a house on his back.

He had traveled many miles and lived many places,
but today Vincent would live here,
because he knew it was where he needed to be.

Vincent stopped on a grassy hill.  The sky stretched as far as his eyes could see. He removed his boots, hat, and his house.

A weary and grumpy frog soon hopped toward Vincent.  Vincent offered his house as a place to rest.  The frog laughed.  Obviously, the house was too small, but peering inside it was definitely bigger than it looked.

As the day progressed Vincent was visited by a hungry cat, a rain-and-wind tossed family of hedgehogs, and a bunch of other animal residents of the forest.  Each time, the mouse would offer his house as a sanctuary.  Each time the animals believed the house was too small to accommodate them, but they were wrong.  The house grew and grew and grew.

As all the gathered beings were about to enjoy a feast in the soothing sanctuary of Vincent's house, there was a knock at the door.  It was now dark outside.  Standing at the door was a bear, a bear who was hungry and lost.  Vincent was his usual cheerful, inviting self.  The other animals were not.  Their voices rose in protest.  Vincent knew where he was needed and no one was going to change what he believed to be true.

With every reading the musicality of this story, in a blend of dialogue and narrative, by Jonathan Stutzman grows more evident. We are initially introduced to the main protagonist and his house.  Each time an animal appears we are reminded of this mouse's characteristics and the characteristics of his house.  Carefully chosen words clearly indicate the condition of each animal upon their arrival.  This is paired with a perfect suggestion by Vincent as to what his house offers.  There is a repetition of key phrases.  Jonathan Stutzman brings us full circle with his closing sentences.  Here is a passage.

Clouds billowed in the west, and in blew a family of hedgehogs---one by
one by one by one by one by one by one---each wet and tousled by a
mighty storm.

"Terrible weather in the valley," squeaked the youngest.

"Come in, come in!" said Vincent with a smile.  "I have warm blankets
and beds and a crackling fire."  . . .

The artwork on the open book case is a single vibrant image.  Vincent, moving to the right, has passed through a mass of stunning blooms covering the left, back, and continuing to the right of the spine on the front.  The house he is carrying on his back is the first of many cut-outs throughout the book.  What we see is a hint of the gorgeous opening and closing endpapers.  The array of blooms on these endpapers is stunning.

On the back of book case is text that would normally appear on the front and back flaps of a dust jacket.  At the top is a short description of Vincent and his house.  Toward the bottom we read about Jonathan Stutzman and Isabelle Arsenault. 

The floral display continues on the two-page illustration for the title page.  Here Vincent, on the right, has placed his house down for a moment.  Almost all the double-page pictures contain a cut-out of Vincent's house with sizes that shift.

These visuals by Isabelle Arsenault

were created with gouache, ink, and cut paper.

Her characters are highly animated with facial expressions indicating their particular moods.  Readers will be fascinated by their clothing.  Each time we look inside Vincent's home, there are added elements to make the interior more pleasing.  You find yourself looking in anticipation each time a page is turned.  Once inside the animals are relaxed and happier.  Readers will gasp at the four-page gatefold.  Be sure to look in the windows.

One of my many favorite images is when the cat and frog are already inside Vincent's house.  On the left, through the cut-out house, one of the hedgehogs is gazing inside.  There are now four hanging lamps with unique shades.  You can see the cat and frog's shoes, removed, as well as Vincent's boots.  The table is longer with more chairs and place settings.  The frog and cat are seated there enjoying a cup of tea.  There is now a brick fireplace with plates along the mantle.  A roaring fire there spreads warmth.  Two beds are in front of the fireplace.  Other beds can be seen on the left.  Spare blankets are stacked on a stool.  There are several rugs on the floor.

The first time I read The Mouse Who Carried A House On His Back written by Jonathan Stutzman with illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault, I felt as though I had been presented with something rich and rare.  We are enchanted from beginning to end by Vincent and his uplifting spirit and kindness.  In his eyes, all are equal.  Hopefully as the animals leave his home, his generous spirit will go with them and us.  You can't help but wonder how Vincent knows where he needs to be.  This book is sure to generate discussions.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Jonathan Stutzman and Isabelle Arsenault and their other work, please visit their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Jonathan Stutzman has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Isabelle Arsenault has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  At the publisher's website, you can view an interior illustration.  At Penguin Random House, you can see additional interior pictures.

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