Is there a house, a house somewhere in your memory, that you recall as being haunted? One off a dirt road that wound through the woods? One where the windows may or may not have been broken by a stray stone? The roof sagging, but still intact?
Did you find this house in the woods while wandering about with a friend or two? And did you stand in hushed silence at the thought of ghosts, ghosts peering back at you from its dark recesses?
I did. And I think Julie Fogliano did, too.
“Deep in the woods
is a house
just a house
that once was
but now isn’t
We see this house in the distance, through the trees, and we can’t believe our luck at finding this mysterious place.
I turn the page.
“At the top of a hill
sits the house
that is leaning.
A house that once wasn’t
but now it is peeling.
A house that was once
I know, I know. It’s a slant rhyme! But the rhythm pulls me on, rhythm so strong, I barely notice the slant. And I am intrigued by this stanza, and inexplicably filled with longing. The artist, Lane Smith, shows the legs of a pair of children, standing in the weeds, facing this slanting, peeling house.
I turn the page.
up the path
up the path that is hiding.
A path that once welcomed.
A path that is winding.
A path that’s now covered in weeds.”
I know. I know! Another slant rhyme! But tell me you don’t want to read on. Tell me that you have not been mesmerized, as if by a hypnotist.
With each page turn, the two children sneak up on this house and then listen to “a window that says climb inside.” Oh, yes! Didn’t you hear that whisper?
This book pulls us into its world and keep us there, through lyrical language and illustrations that already look like a memory.
In the end, the children head for home, a home that is cozy and warm, where dinner is waiting (love that nod to Where the Wild Things Are) and where they are loved.
And the house in the woods? It still stands alone, lost in its tangle of memories.
A note about craft: The author uses rhythm and varied rhyme schemes that never trip the tongue or sound “off.” The cadence is measured and strong. It’s also one of those instances where the “voice” and tone of the piece lets you know that you are in the hands of a master, so you trust where it takes you. This may sound like a vague or unsatisfying explanation of why the rhyme in this book works for me, but picture book magic is not simple math. It’s more like quantum physics and Schrödinger’s Cat. My apologies if this explanation is just as enigmatic as that house that is leaning. Cheers!
(the activity jpegs shown below can be found under the book listing on Amazon)
Pair with The Hundred-Year Barn by Patricia MacLachlan.
Maze and Word search:
Draw those who lived in this room:
Make sponge paintings:
Title: a house that once was
Author: Julie Fogliano
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan), 2018
Themes: memories, what makes a house a home
Ages: K-3rd grade
For more perfect picture books, please visit Susanna Hill’s blog.