This lyrically written and beautifully illustrated picture book draws the reader gradually into the mysterious and melancholy world of an abandoned house in the woods. Two children find the empty, dilapidated house, climb through an open window, explore rooms full of discarded possessions and try to imagine who the people were who used to live there. That sounds quite simple, but this book is complex and subtle. Julia Fogliano’s rhyming text explores themes of past lives and the passing of time, the idea of ‘once’ and the concepts of nothingness and not being. It celebrates the ability of children to explore and imagine.
The quiet, contemplative tone of the text is perfectly complemented by Lane Smith’s illustrations. Bright colours and textures evoke the woodland world whilst the house and its contents, almost disappearing, appear blank and linear. As the children imagine the possible lives of previous occupants the illustrations change, colours darken, textures deepen, outlines become clearer and the illustrations no longer fade to the edges of the pages but are bordered by white page space like paintings. These imaginary scenes have a clarity that the present day ones do not, acting as visual symbols of the power of the child’s imagination.
This picture book is full of visual and textual layers, the poetic text demands to be read aloud and a contemplative reader will be enticed into the book’s dream like world and find much to discover there.