A House That Once Was (Julie Fogliano)

Hello, friends! Our book today is A House That Once Was, written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Lane Smith, an interesting examination of what makes a house into a home.

Two children are exploring the woods one day when they come upon a derelict house. Its path is overgrown, its paint is cracked and fading, and its windows are broken, the last providing entry for the curious kids. Inside, they find evidence of a life once lived there: faded photos, dusty kitchen contents, even a still-made bed. They speculate as to who might have once inhabited the home: a lady who painted squirrels in the garden? A little boy who made model planes? A girl who loved to dance? And what became of these people? The children return home after their expedition, and reflect on the house that was once a home – for a house is only truly be a home because a person makes it so.

This is definitely an intriguing story, and it has it’s ups and downs for me. As a mom, I think I got hung up on the idea of two children exploring a crumbling house unsupervised, starting by climbing in through a shattered window that still had shards of glass; I realize that it’s a kid’s book, and begs a suspension of disbelief, but it still made me clench. Also, there was something faintly bothersome about the way the story left the speculative former family of the home, wandering the woods because they couldn’t find their keys. Again, it’s a figment of a fictional child’s imagination, but it felt a little unsatisfying. However, past those two trifles, there is a beautifully illustrated meditation on home, things, and how we leave traces of ourselves in both. The text flows like a gentle stream, and JJ seemed very soothed by it. It’s a good length, and overall a very pretty book, so we’re calling this one Baby Bookworm approved!

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