a house that once was – Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

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

a home.”

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 

painted blue.”

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.

Text ⓒJulie Fogliano Illustration ⓒLane Smith

“Tiptoe creep

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.

17 thoughts on “a house that once was – Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

      • Lindsey McDivitt says:

        You truly evoked the “picture book magic” in this lovely sounding picture book! What a beautiful poetic post. Yes, I certainly came upon houses like this as a child! What a fascinating ode to those memories.

        • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

          Thank you! I think this book will spark the imaginations of children who have or have’t had this experience, because it provides such a great point of entry for the imagination. As Mac Barnett would say, it allows the fiction into our lives through the secret door of the book. (I am paraphrasing, LOL)

  1. Sarah Tobias says:

    I enjoyed this book as well. One of my favorite things was to see Lane Smith with such a different style of art from his days working with Jon Scieszka. It is cool to watch artists change and work in multiple styles. That could be a fun activity with kids. Check out Lane Smith’s book and compare art styles.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      That’s an excellent point! You can see this style in his own author/illustrator books, GRANDPA GREEN (Caldecott Honor) published in 2011 and THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS (Kate Greenaway Medal), published in 2016, both also under the Roaring Book Press imprint. Very different from his Scieszka work. His capabilities are quite diverse.

  2. Maria Marshall says:

    Jilanne, I liked this book, too. It was very thought provoking. Especially if you’ve ever found an old barn, house, or foundation and wondered who had lived there. Thanks for the great review.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Thanks, Joanna, but I can’t claim the activities. This was one of the times when an author-illustrator-publisher decided to create these activity sheets themselves. I think it’s an excellent thing to do as it provides ready-made materials for anyone who reads this book to kids, whether individually or as a group. All they have to do is print them out.

  3. ptnozell says:

    This is a magical book, a perfect pairing of lyrical language and dreamy illustrations that lure the reader into the past. When I was young, we lived near a cemetary with large, not-yet-occupied fields near the inhabited portion. I have many memories of zig-zagging through tombstones to reach what we used as a ball field. Although not quite like an abandoned house, the inscriptions were fascinating. Thanks for a great review!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Oooooh, I loved cemeteries as a kid, too. I could wander and wonder there for hours, imagining those lives. When I was in middle school, our art teacher had us take rubbings from gravestones and turn them into a finished art piece. Loved doing that. Let’s raise a glass to memories, shall we? Ones that serve our writing, as well as the ones we dip into just for the fun of it.

  4. Ste J says:

    A lonely house is such an evocative memory, whether real or imagined, I love all the activities too, although I would have to buy two books and keep one pristine for my own reading pleasure, being the picky and awkward chap that I am.

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