March 5, 2017


Deborah Freedman's stunning new picture book This House, Once asks, What was your home, once? It seems like a simple question, but underneath lies a much larger question of how the natural world has provided for humans and how we use the resources we've taken.

Freedman focuses on each aspect of a house and what it was before it became a part of the house. We see a door that used to be an oak tree and bricks that used to be oozing mud under tree roots. Rather than showcasing the house like a diagram, though, Freedman builds up the house spread by spread. For most of the book we alternate between stark white spreads with an element of the house (the door, the roof, etc) and colorful spreads that show where the element came from. So we see the door on one spread and then a colorful, almost hazy memory of the oak tree it came from on the next. It's a beautiful way to give each element its focus and still leave time to talk about the house as a whole at the end.

Freedman proves time and time again how adept she is at using watercolor to bring out the softness and thoughtfulness of her texts. For this book, she used watercolor, pencils, and pastels with a touch of digital editing, and it helps readers transition back and forth between the "current" and the "past." We get rings around the images that feature the past of each element, as though we're traveling back in time to a hazy memory. And Freedman is a natural at balancing these ethereal atmospheres with fine details and deeper, richer bits of color. So while the "memory" is hazy, the details in the memory still shine.

This House, Once published last week from Athenuem Books for Young Readers, and it's a most beautiful addition to any shelf.

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