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.
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.
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.
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.
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.