Archive for January 26th, 2020

by Sam Juliano

In the elegiac A House That Once Was, a 2018 picture book by Julie Fogliano with illustrations by Lane Smith, a derelict house is a monument to memories.  The ghostly cabin in the deep woods seems well past the point of architectural resuscitation, and continues to exist in a kind of spectral sphere as a shrine to times well lived.  A similarly dilapidated shack encased in tar paper and nearly to the point of no return is brought back to life when a big and impoverished Depression-era family perform their own effective method of CPR by employing handyman ethics in the sumptuous Home in the Woods by Eliza Wheeler, an arresting story of grit and fortitude set in the Minnesota woods based on the true to life hardships of her grandmother’s family. Wheeler’s book, a love letter to her Nan, the fifth oldest in a family of eight, is a work of astounding craftsmanship in every aspect of its construction.  The painterly dust jacket, bathed in gorgeous yellow, green and turquoise in its evocation of the titular structure, establishes setting in the most pictorially resplendent of terms.  The inside cover, a replication of the text’s winter tapestry and a work of art unto itself, depicts two members of the family heading out to find food may inspire adult readers to recite The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep and miles to go before I sleep.  An annotated map of the family’s rural woodland hamlet appears on the end papers and their own shack lies near a swamp, with only deer paths falling between.  The title page, like the dust cover sports jumbo-font black India ink letters and a miniature facsimile of the most-unlikely of homes for nine people. (more…)

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