Covid19 Anchor in Time:
The world is nearly a year into the unspecified date on which "patient one" unknowingly contracted the earliest case of Covid 19. Soon after, the spread began, the questions eventually arose, and specialists in contagious diseases began the long and puzzling journey that brings us to our "current" global count of nearly forty million positive diagnoses and more than a million deaths due to Covid. The ever-changing reports can be checked HERE.
I mention this because, despite these tragic numbers, and even some gradually developing treatment and vaccine news, people continue to be evicted, to seek new dwellings, to put homes up for sale and buy new ones, to pack belongings and move possessions into the spaces previously occupied by others, by people who considered it their home. Especially in these uncertain times, how long does it take to make that new dwelling feel like YOUR home? And what, precisely, helps you turn the page to that new reality?
Homes are so much more than the structures in which we live. The final stanza of a poem I wrote when my parents moved from their longtime home makes this point:
"A house is just an empty stage
where families live and love and age.
The script is stored, each detailed page,
in the memories of the cast."
|Alfred A. Knopf|
THE BLUE HOUSE, written and illustrated by Phoebe Wahl, explores this question with incredibly tender insight and details. The front and back covers effectively lift this very specific blue house and this very special father-son pair (Leo and his dad) into a liminal white space that could represent any place, any time. The art there and throughout the book utilizes Wahl's characteristic and intentionally primitive style, infused with earthy colors and a very relatable charm.
The polar opposite of this universality is revealed at the opening endpapers, which absorbed my attention for an extended time. The "blue house" is recognizable from the cover, but it lives on a very specific street corner of a very specific neighborhood, one in which every square foot is dense with quirky characteristics and personality, in which each seems to have countless stories to tell. There is a warmth and welcoming spirit to this opening, one that continues with every turn of the page.
The story is simple, and infused with emotions ranging from joy to pain to peace, and everything in between. With hand-lettered, limited text and page after page of intriguingly detailed images, readers learn that the blue house is both dilapidated and a personal palace. Indoors and out, it is the stage on which Leo and his dad celebrate their love and the luxury of lives well-lived, deeply experienced in each moment. When harsh reality forces them to move, they experience "all the feels" together, emptying that old blue house of their lives. No spoiler here, except to praise expert storytelling that offers a departure scene that effectively foreshadows the eventual resolution scene.
Ultimately, we all move on. That is true of physical circumstances, in our emotional lives, and in our relationships. Transitions take time. This simple story is a warmhearted reminder that we will survive change. We can and will, in fact, grow from transitions. What matters most is how we face change. The final endpapers offer a look at that opening neighborhood with some changes underway. There is enough continuity of familiar and comforting anchors to promise that change, over time, can lead us forward in life to something better, while retaining the best of what has gone before.
As with the best picture books, this one entertains and appeals on its face. The underlying and powerful themes offer meat for discussion, but that isn't necessary. Even the youngest children will be adding it to their "read it again" stack, absorbing the themes with each repetition. The boy in the story is clearly an oder child but what entices and appeals is the core of the story- the lively and loving and accepting daily life of this family.
This is one of the growing number of CYBILS AWARDS nominees in the fiction picture book category. Links to reviews of more of the 100+ titles (so far), by me and the other panelists, can be found HERE. This is NOT going to be an easy decision, folks!