Creative people fascinate me, for lots of reasons. I don't consider myself to be especially creative in any real sense - certainly not with arts and crafts, and rarely with leftovers even -- so I guess that's why the creative process seems so mystifying. The events and objects that inspire authors and illustrators are so varied, and it's always interesting to see what these folks mine for their work. Of course life events are high on that list, and I'd bet that more than a few books were generated from the creators' own childhoods.
In the case of Jonathan Bean's Building Our House, that's especially true, as Bean used his own family's experience of building their home as fodder for this new book. In the author's note at the end, Bean explains the process that his parents used, and includes photos from their experiences. Sprout loved this part of the book. Honestly he was thrilled by the thought that the events in the book really happened to someone who grew up and wrote a book about it. (I think it's important to connect the dots for kids, so any time we can talk about something we know about the author, it's a huge bonus.)
And the personal aspect of this story definitely comes through in the way Bean has lovingly presented his topic. First of all the illustrations are just delightful; from the cover and endpapers right on in, kids will be absorbed by the level of detail and depth Bean includes in each spread. The story opens as the family moves from their home in the city to a plot of land in the country, where they plan to build their new home. Every aspect of the construction process is discussed, from the plans and tools, to the pouring of the foundation, to the raising of the frame. The family lives in a trailer as the house is going up, and the process of readying their temporary homestead is mentioned as well.
The house itself is quite obviously a member of the family, around which the entire story turns. Even the weather becomes a secondary character - for instance, Bean depicts the kids playing in a pool as Dad downs lemonade, and describes the hurry to get work done before the winter weather sets in. And the extended family comes into play, participating in the frame raising and helping out with the move. But through it all the little family works together, mother and father and children, each to their own talents and abilities, diligently laboring to build their home.
It's a love story Bean has told, and marvelously so, with simple prose and illustrations kids will pore over. For those who are enthralled by construction work and tools, this is a surefire hit, and adults likewise will find themselves studying each page closely. It's no wonder Bean won a Horn Book/Boston Globe Award this year for Building Our House. In the manner of classic kidlit, this book is timeless and one no library should be without.
Building Our House by Jonathan Bean, published by Farrar Straus Giroux
Sample: "My family makes up a strong crew of four and we have a truck named Willys. My brother helps Dad carry the tools. 'The right tools for the right job,' says Dad. / I help Mom carry the plans. 'A good plan for a good house,' says Mom. Willys carries everything else."