THE LAST BOOKSTORE + The House of Lost and Found – Perfect Picture Book Friday

First, I’ve got to show you where a spent a few hours this past week during spring break in Los Angeles. Yes, it’s THE LAST BOOKSTORE housed in an old bank in downtown LA!

And what did I find in THE LAST BOOKSTORE? Well, an unusual picture book written by Swedish author, Martin Widmark.

Image copyright Emilia Dziubak

The minute I opened this book and started reading, I realized that it was not initially published for the U.S. market. The main character is an old man, not a child who must prove his or her own agency by solving every problem they’re up against. And the word count! There are entire paragraphs of words! Something meaty for an older child to dig into.

Meet Niles, an old man.

Image copyright Emilia Dziubak

Poor Niles. Even his cat, Johan Sebastian, has abandoned him to his melancholia.

But that fourth sentence drew laughter instead of the planned pathos. Note to editors: make sure the translation from Swedish to English doesn’t leave an unfortunate, unintended result.

But lets push that one error aside and press on. I do feel sad for poor Niles. It turns out that his wife has died, and his two children have grown up and moved away, leaving him alone in his house filled with memories. Memories that he says good night to as he turns off the lights, including the lights in his deceased wife’s studio.

Image copyright Emilia Dziubak

It’s a painting of a field of poppies where they first fell in love. He murmurs a reply to his wife’s question and turns off the light. Sob.

He turns off the lights in his study as he recalls how he used to sit and read, something he no longer enjoys. And he turns off the lights in his children’s room as he recalls his son’s fear of the dark and the depth of his daughter’s sleep. Sob.

When he is finally in bed and ready to turn off his own light, the doorbell rings. And then rings again. He finds a boy holding a pot of dirt on his doorstep. A boy who says he’s going on vacation and needs Niles to water and tend his plant.

Niles fails to say, “no, I can’t do this” in time. The boy is gone. And thus begins Niles’ transformation from someone who is buried by the past to someone who begins to live in the present. As Niles begins to care for the plant, he begins to care for his house, and light returns to his life, along with Johan Sebastian. When the boy returns, the plant has flourished and bloomed.

And yes, it turns out that it is a gloriously red poppy. A poppy for remembrance, but it is also a poppy filled with life. The boy invites Niles to his home, and Niles accepts his invitation. Happy sob.

A lovely book that could help a child work through their own sense of loneliness or empathize with an older family member or with someone who lives alone or who has lost someone dear. The colored pencil illustrations work brilliantly with the text, starting out dark with minimal color and ending light-filled and vibrant. This is a gorgeous book that will satisfy adults and children alike.


Plant your own poppies

Make poppies for remembrance

Discuss what it’s like to feel lonely using info from this website

Title: The House of Lost and Found

Author: Martin Widmark

Illustrator: Emilia Dziubak

Publisher: Floris Books, 2018 (English edition)

Ages: Kinder-5th grade

Themes: Loneliness, caring and connection

For more perfect picture book reviews and recommendations, visit Susanna Hill’s website.

33 thoughts on “THE LAST BOOKSTORE + The House of Lost and Found – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. heylookawriterfellow says:

    Pot plants? Poppies? Clearly this Niles fellow was a onetime drug kingpin of some sort. And now he’s corrupting the next generation. Yeah. What a swell story. Way to go, Jil.

    All jokes aside, this book seems wonderful. I sometimes lament the fact that American PBs often reject adult main characters and higher word counts. As this book shows, good writers and illustrators can really expand the storytelling possibilities when they’re unshackled by arbitrary rules.

    And that bookstore! Oh. My. God. I want to go to there.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Yes, I do think U.S. publishing has edited themselves into a corner, so to speak. Some of the books that fly through the air lock from those outside the U.S. give us a new kind of oxygen. And yes, THAT BOOKSTORE. We were there for hours….I’ll be featuring another picture book I found there next week.

        • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

          I didn’t know! I wasn’t prepared! No one told me I should have taken supplies. They do have signs quietly suggesting that you read for no longer than two hours on any particular couch (although they didn’t kick my son off one of the couches, where he sat reading a sci-fi brick for longer than that, LOL). But you have to check backpacks (and coolers) at the door, so there’s no camping allowed, sadly……

  2. Joanna says:

    That bookstore is just wild. I have to see it on my next LA trip.

    And, a big yes from me to foreign picture books, that break so many of the American picture book rules, and yet offer such a different reading experience to our children. I love that Johan Sebastien just disappears! 🙂

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      I’d pitch a tent (or at least sleep on one of their comfy couches) in that bookstore. I’m surprised you haven’t stumbled across it in your travels. And it’s easy walking distance from The Broad and MoCA. Cats let you know when they’ve had enough, right? But it’s quite lovely that Johan Sebastian decides to return at the end. Fitting.

  3. Darshana says:

    Thanks for sharing the pics of the vault and the book. The book sounds gorgeous and reminds me a bit of the movie UP and also Brian Lies’s THE ROUGH PATCH. Just put a library hold on this book!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Yes, those are good comps. But this book definitely doesn’t skimp on words, and I like that. It feels like the author is taking his time telling the story, something I miss in U.S. books.

  4. Grade ONEderful says:

    I’ve never heard of the The Last Bookstore. It’s AMAZING!!!
    We’ll be in California this summer so maybe we can make our way to LA just to see it 🙂

    The book also sounds wonderful, despite the “pot plant” which totally cracked me up. Other than that I was actually getting quite choked up reading about this lovely book. I definitely want to get my hands on a copy and share it with my first graders.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Patricia Tilton says:

    What a remarkable bookstore. I love the book you found and shared. I’ve found that Canadian and European publishers are much more open. I find it amusing that I know they’d never get published here. I am so glad you found this book. Only once did I not share a book I was sent by a publisher, because it involved a mercy drowning of a sick child — it was a thin MG. Just could touch that subject.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Yes, such a difference esthetic, isn’t it? Especially the belief that all picture books need to focus on characters who are children or child-like. I really think that is misguided.

  6. Ste J says:

    I love the bookshop it looks really great but tell me were you tempted to pull a book from those curving arches? It seems hard to resist. The book looks lovely too, that front cover would sell it to me without me even needing to explore it.

  7. Maria Marshall says:

    What a fun bookshop. You did find a very interesting book. Reminds me a bit of the movie “Up.” Sometimes, having something to care about makes the memories more bearable.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Others have mentioned “Up,” so I’m going to have to see the movie. I do think that caring for people or other living things gives meaning and purpose and helps us manage our grief. So true.

  8. FictionFan says:

    Woo! Fantastic! The problem is that my wicked side would force me to insist on buying all the books at the bottom of the piles, just to watch the sales assistants faces! Haha – see it’s not Swedish-to-English that’s the problem, it’s Swedish-to-Californian! Pot plants mean something quite different over here… 😂

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      I see. And then after they got the books for you, you’d say, “Oh, these aren’t what I thought they were at all. I want the ones at the bottom of that other stack.”

      Glad to hear it’s not an “editing” issue, rather an issue of cultural misinterpretation, LOL.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      It was pretty crowded when we were there. Lots of people taking pictures, and I hope buying books like me! But still plenty of space to sit and read on a couch. It’s a MUST visit if you’re ever in Los Angeles. It’s near quite a few tourist attractions, so it gets a lot of foot traffic.

  9. Kate Johnston says:

    I need that bookstore. I must have that bookstore. What can I do to get that bookstore!!

    OMG, I read the “pot plants” before I read your commentary and I immediately did a double-take. I couldn’t be sure if it was an error or not, you know, considering *these days* and all. So curious if the publishing house was ever enlightened on that!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Yes, I feel the same about the bookstore. It’s one of the few reasons I wished I lived near LA.

      Now, about the “pot” issue, LOL. One of my blogger friends, Fiction Fan, clarified this in one of the comments here. Apparently, “pot plant” across the pond is equivalent to “potted plant” here. Now we know!

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