Picture Book Review: A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano & Lane Smith

Review: A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano, illus. Lane Smith
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: May 1, 2018 by Roaring Book Press
Book Description:

The dynamic duo of Ezra Jack Keats Award-winning author Julie Fogliano and Caldecott Award-winning illustrator Lane Smith team up to tell a delightful story about a boy and a girl who explore an abandoned house and imagine who might have lived there in A House That Once Was .

Deep in the woods
is a house
just a house
that once was
but now isn’t
a home.

Who lived in that house? Who walked down its hallways? Why did they leave it, and where did they go?

Two children set off to find the answers, piecing together clues found, books left behind, forgotten photos, discarded toys, and creating their own vision of those who came before.

Readers who have already experienced the beautifully melodic writing of Julie Fogliano (If You Want to See a Whale) as well as the lush (and sometimes wonderfully peculiar) artwork of Lane Smith (Grandpa Green), might already know that they are in for a treat with A House That Once Was!

At the top of a hill
sits the house
that is leaning.
A house that once wasn’t
but now is peeling.
A house that was once
painted blue.

Image from A House That Once Was via Macmillan site

Tinged with this happy-sad feeling of nostalgia, a little bit achy, bittersweet yet hopeful, A House That Once Was is story told through the eyes of two young kids who find an old, seemingly abandoned house in the woods. As a bright-eyed blue bird closely watches (and possibly judges!) the kids’ behavior, the two explorers venture inside through “a window that now has no window at all, a window that says climb inside”. The children wander quietly- whispering to each other- making their way through the house, looking at photographs, emptied cans, books, cooking, and other forgone items, imagining who might have once owned and lived in the house that once was. Could the owner have been a “woman who painted all day in the garden portraits of squirrels…”, or “a boy who built planes and dreamt nightly of flying? A baby? A cowboy? A queen or a king?”. Thinking about why this house is in its current state, the children consider everything from past residents being involved in shipwrecks…or taking off to Paris…simply running away…Or! Is the house is simply waiting for their owner(s) to return? After some time has passed, the children venture out of the “house that was once but now isn’t a home”- blue bird still watching their movements- and ponder at their experiences as they make their way back to their own waiting, inviting home.

Image from A House That Once Was via Macmillan site

I have mentioned the feeling of nostalgia in a few picture books as of late (e.g. Alma and How She Got Her Name), and there’s just something that I quite love about a story with some wistfulness in it…Quiet, lyrical picture books such as A House That Once Was are an experience to read and to savour (A House That Once Was would be a lovely read to pair with A House Held Up by Trees and This House, Once). I have read this title a number of times to myself, but reading it aloud and relishing in performing Fogliano’s rhythmic texts makes for a new experience! Overall, a beautiful read that stands perfectly against the backdrop of Smith’s thoughtful and rather dreamy mixed-media illustrations. Readers who have have previously read and enjoyed Julie Fogliano’s work and are fans of Lane Smith’s art, or who enjoy more reflective picture books might especially enjoy the beauty of A House That Once Was.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

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