This House is Home
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This House is Home
Many will remember Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House, published in 1942. In that book, a little pink bungalow on a hill watches a city grow up around it as it experiences times of day, seasons, the passing of years, and the changes in the landscape. Finally, dirty, dilapidated and surrounded by skyscrapers and busy roads, it is found by “the great-great-granddaughter of the man who built the Little House so well” and moved to a new location out in the country.
This 2021 book by Deborah Kerbel tells a similar tale using the voice of a little girl rabbit named Lily. She is one of a large family which occupies a big white stucco house, shown with its coloured doors and balconies, situated at the end of a lane. At the start, the narrator muses on the nature of change.
The world is a busy place.
Change rushes this way and that.
But Grandma says our house is old and steady as mountains.
Progress is definitely in the wind. Real estate speculators and other prospective buyers are regular visitors to the house, apparently eager to scoop up an investment opportunity. (“Grandma offered everyone cookies and lemonade, then shooed them away like flies.”). Although neighbours around them are packing up and leaving, the rabbit family is not interested in selling.
Construction begins on a major road which comes right up to the door.
And suddenly we were an island in a river of concrete.
Then came the cars. They sped by our windows, this way and that.
The rumble of wheels shook our walls all day long.
At night, buzzing engines sawed my dreams in half.
The fast-moving cars and trucks are a scary sight to Lily. The entire family feels the stress of the situation, evidenced by the picture of Grandma sneezing from the dust, children squabbling, baby crying and Dad Rabbit trying to keep up with the dirt with his vacuum, all while Lily peers sadly out the window.
Lily sees a flower growing on the other side of the highway – the last one left! – and feels she has to save it. She scampers through the traffic and brings the flower back to be put in a pot on her windowsill. Lily knows this can only be a temporary place if the plant is to thrive, and these thoughts engender a dream.
That night, my dreams became whole again.
The road had melted into a sea.
The cars had shrunken to fish.
My house had grown sails. And I was its captain.
Lily’s dream seems to provide the impetus for the house to be put up on wheels and thence onto a barge. The last picture shows the rabbit family waving to shorebound friends as they and their house float down the river, presumably to finish up in a new, more peaceful location.
Kerbel’s telling of the story lacks some of the poetry of the Burton book, much of which relies on repetition for its cadence. Here the sentences are shorter and less descriptive. Also, the transition near the end is a little abrupt, and the narrative leans heavily on the illustrations for elaboration on its ideas. However, the emotion of the characters, at first basking in a quiet family life, then thrown into a maelstrom of uncertainty, is clear.
Watercolour and line illustrations in mostly pastel shades show the rabbits in their home and then dealing with the upheaval of the activity that takes over. This palette contrasts sharply with the double spread which uses oily dark blues and greens showing the vehicles rumbling along the new road at night, headlights shining into the dark and exhaust spewing. The detailed pictures always amplify the text in interesting ways.
Two artists, both of whom have previously-published picture books to their credit, have given readers a pleasant, if not essential, addition to school and public library collections. Besides enjoying This House is Home as a read-aloud story, parents and adults working with children may find the book useful when having discussions about the environment and urban development.
Ellen Heaney is a retired children’s librarian living in Coquitlam, British Columbia.