BooksForKidsBlog

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Uplifting: House Held Up by Trees by Ted Kooser


WHEN IT WAS NEW, THE HOUSE STOOD ALONE ON A BARE SQUARE OF YARD.

THERE WAS A NEWLY-PLANTED LAWN AROUND IT, BUT NOT A SINGLE TREE TO GIVE IT SHADE.

Into the little white frame house comes a  family, a boy and girl and their father, who comes home every afternoon to care for his children and his lawn. In the warm months he mows his perfect grass weekly, and between mowings, relentlessly roots out any small seedlings from the surrounding woods crowded with maples and oaks and ash trees. The children prefer the woods for their play, seeking out the cool shade and making hideouts under the leafy undergrowth.

But time goes by. The trees continue their ancient cycle, blooming in the spring with a thousand tiny flowers, sending their winged seeds and acorns out on the winds of fall.  As children do, the boy and girl grow up and move away from the little house,  For years the father remains alone, keeping his perfect lawn clear of the relentless sprouts of young trees. And then as more time passes, he wearies of caring for the house and keeping the perfect yard and moves away to be near the children, leaving a For Sale sign and his two little lawn chairs behind on his lawn.

BUT TREES ARE NOT EASILY DISCOURAGED.

And as seasons go by, that perfect lawn becomes part of the woodland. The trees crowd closer and closer to the little house as it falls into disrepair, sending their roots into the foundation and their limbs through the broken windows until it becomes almost one with them.
AND AS THEY GREW, THEY HELD IT TOGETHER AS IF IT WAS A BIRD'S NEST IN THE FINGERS OF THEIR BRANCHES.

AND VERY GRADUALLY, THE GROWING TREES BEGAN TO LIFT THE HOUSE OFF ITS FOUNDATION.

THE TREES LIFTED IT AND LIFTED IT--LIKE A TREE HOUSE, A HOUSE IN THE TREES.

The opening of Pulitzer-winning poet Ted Kooser's House Held Up by Trees (Candlewick, 2012) inevitably brings to mind the 1943 Caldecott Medal book by Virginia Lee Burton, The Little House, the story of a little white house in the country eventually surrounded by the city, but Kooser's story takes the opposite line, a little house that nature retakes for its own instead. An American Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser  has a different theme, that the things we build, even those that are once dear to us, are a small part of nature's view of time. It is in one way a sad theme, one that could have portrayed an unfeeling nature, victorious over everything in time,  but one that Kooser softens by making his trees in their own way ironically as care-taking as the house's one-time owner.

Kooser's benevolent point of view is supported, like the little house, by the understated but lovely illustrations of Jon Klassen, whose soft palette and gentle line here is a far cry from his own ironically witty, award-winning picture books, I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat.  Rather than picturing a blind nature, clawing back everything we create in the end, this tale pictures a more gentle version, a nature of "a thousand tiny flowers," which enfolds us all in its embrace, destroyer and preserver, as Shelley called it, always seeking to create and grow new life out of the old. Not a choice for a restless story circle, but for the right time with the right reader, one that makes youngsters think new thoughts.

House Held Up by Trees was named a New York Times Best Illustrated Book for 2012.

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