‘Building Our House,’ by Jonathan Bean

February 5, 2013

Long before Legos and Lincoln Logs, there was plain old lumber: boards sliced from trees and turned into treehouses, clubhouses and forts . . . as well as real houses where families slept and ate and went about the business of living. Jonathan Bean’s ode to individualism and enterprise follows one such family — mother, father, son and daughter — as they pack up their battered blue pickup and head out of town. Idyllic double-page panoramas give way to small busy scenes: A tall rig arrives to drill a well; a man in a bucket-truck strings electrical wires; stacks of lumber, loads of sand and winter all arrive at once. The family holes up in their tiny trailer. With spring, work begins anew, and a foundation gradually takes shape. Summer brings extended family as well as neighbors to “make up a big frame-raising crew.” As autumn rain again turns to snow, the walls and chimney take shape, the wood stove arrives, and the family hunkers down in the cozy circle of its warmth. Woven into the fabric of this tale are other, smaller stories: A stray cat arrives and adopts the family; mother’s belly grows along with the house; a daughter learns to measure and mark a beam; a boy learns to plumb a sink. Sharp eyes and repeated readings reveal other unmentioned delights: Dad sheltering under a yellow umbrella as he works on the half-shingled roof, a tiny toy truck parked beside a gigantic pile of sand, a wee evergreen perched on the ridgepole. This vision of an entire family working together to create a life and a place in the world is as satisfyingly solid as the stone foundation upon which their home is built.


“Building Our House” by Jonathan Bean. (Farrar Straus Giroux. $17.99. Ages 6-8). (FSG)

Kristi Elle Jemtegaard

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