When I picked House Held Up By Trees (written by Ted Kooser and illustrated by Jon Klassen) for this week’s new book, I’ll admit I did judge the book by its cover. I’m a fan of Klassen’s illustrations (by the way, he just won this year’s Caldecott Medal), and the cover of this book depicted a house high in the trees, and I thought, “Cool–a fanciful book about a real tree house.” But as I read this book, I realized I was reading something so much more special.
I’ll tell you right now that this book is rather bittersweet, and in a way, reminded me of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree by how both books mark the passing of time with the heights of joy and fun and the lingering sadness that is often not too far out of reach. I imagine that adults will find this book more meaningful than children, but like The Giving Tree, I also think that depending on what stage of life you find yourself when reading this book, will determine what you read into the simple words and images in this book.
For example, in the beginning of the book a brother and sister live on a manicured yard next to a sort of wilderness. The children “have to crawl on [their] hands and knees to get to the cool and shadowy secret places inside.” When I read that, I instantly remembered a similar place from my childhood: the top of the hill in my grandparents’ yard that was lined with thick pine trees where my brother and I would race along the needle littered path. We had to crawl through the branches to get into the space in between, and I can still remember the sunlight there was softer and the rustling of leaves and birds was sometimes the only sound. This was a happy place enjoyed by a brother and sister just like in the book. This, of course, is the joy and fun part of time passing on.
Later in the book, after the children had “gotten too big to crawl around in the trees,” they sometimes “stood at their edge and remembered how much fun they’d had playing there when they were small.” I also remember visiting my grandparents as teenager and as an adult and walking towards the somewhat unruly line of pine trees and taking a moment to think about how much fun I had there, while also knowing that even if I could fit, it would no longer be the same. This would be the bitter-sweetness that I mentioned earlier, and a feeling that the House Held Up By Trees gets just right.
This book, for me anyway, was a lovely way to think about times past and times to come, as well as serving as a reminder of nature’s mark on all of us.