We’ve all seen them, those houses by the roadside that no-one inhabits; houses that are neglected and broken and in need of care, and we have always wondered how such houses came to be. House Held Up By Trees tells the tale of one such house. We are introduced to the house, the land on each side of which is full of trees though no trees stand near the house: they were removed to make room for the building. The owner now diligently mows the lawn and removes the seedlings as they land and sprout before any thoughts of a tree can settle. But time passes, the young children grow, and finally so do the trees.
Written by Ted Kooser, the text is longer than a traditional picture book but is all the richer for it. There is a sense of ease to his writing, his strong steady voice is poetic and leisurely; it is perfect storytelling, and we imagine it being to told to us on a hot summer’s day by someone with infinite stories to tell, not stories about heroes or adventure, but stories about life: real life.
In a way it reminds us of To Kill A Mockingbird where we are onlookers: we follow a family from the outside through the seasons from our porch; we watch the children play and the father garden; we are witnesses to the passage of time and its inevitability.
The illustrations by Jon Klassen do not try to compete with the text, instead the muted palette sits quietly alongside. Klassen’s textured imagery brings the clusters of trees to life, ages the wood of the house as is settles and sags, and provides a warm, hazy sense of place for the lonely house to exist. It feels solitary and dusty, and although it is beautiful we can also understand why no-one would buy the house. Clever touches, subtly done, (like the car tracks along the ground showing that the car has visited that particular house and is not just passing by) reinforce Klassen’s skill as a storyteller as well as an illustrator.
This is a picture book with a difference: it is quiet, thoughtful and elegant. A book steeped in nostalgia which has a marked feeling of safety: despite the passage of time and the inevitability of change that all is as it should be. Although its story builds and we as readers are wrapped up in it, it is slow and its magical ending hangs there for barely a moment before being swept away like seeds in a passing wind. We mustn’t forget that in picture books a whisper can be as powerful as a shout. House Held Up By Trees is a reminder of the sheer will and force of nature, and that time will not wait for us.