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Monday, July 21, 2014

My Favorite Picture Book So Far This Year!

Hatke, Ben (2014)  Julia's House for Lost Creatures  New York:  First Second.

     Julia's house come s to town (it is built on the back of a turtle) and Julia plants her mailbox and hangs out a sign: "Julia's House for Lost Creatures."  Before long a patchwork cat scratches at her door and soon the house is less lonely.  However, when the cat is followed by trolls, mermaids, fairies, and other creatures, things get a bit out of hand, and Julia has to take charge.  The story is good, but there are at least five other reasons why I love this book.
1.  The illustrations are wonderful.  Julia is the sort of resourceful, strong, plucky girl that reminds me of my daughters.  Her facial expressions let us see what she is thinking.  (Hatke does female protagonists better than anyone else I know). The creatures, the house, and especially the final guest on the last page are all wonderful. (I would post some more images, but the book just came out ad the images on line are not that high quality yet).
2.  I love that much of this book is not explained.  Some creatures are recognizable, some aren't -- but none of them have a backstory.  Why does Julia's house ride on the back of a turtle?  Where was Julia before?  What's the deal with the cat made out of fabric?  Why does the Troll like music so much?  What is with the beaked, cloaked creature with human feet?  What is the story behind that robot, anyway?  Does all this sound confusing?  It isn't.  The story makes perfect sense -- but on the pages are countless untold stories that e3ncourage young readers to fill in the gaps.  In fact, the open-endedness of this book seems to imply that there is room in Julia's house for the reader too.
3.  It has trolls in it.  Since I teach at a college which sports the only troll mascot for any college in the country, I am predisposed toward Trolls anyway.  Hatke's trolls are huge and seem half beast and half forest (complete with nesting birds).  Also, they love music.  And they seem friendly. 
4.  Do you remember how in Where the Wild Things Are, Max found himself in the chaotic and frightening world of the wild things having a wild rumpus -- but before things got too scary, he took charge and put the monsters in their place?  In a similar way, Hatke's book has enough tension that it keeps the story moving, but at no point do you worry that Julia will be overwhelmed.  She is equal to the task. 
5.  There are some wonderful details for kids to spot.  Julia's living room has allusions to both Hatke's Zita the Spacegirl series and his upcoming Little Robot stuff.  But adults won't notice these things -- only kids who know how to see into the world of the picture book will pick them up (okay, and a few adults who haven't really grown up yet). 
This is a great picture book.  Go get one for your kid, students, niece or nephew, family friend, or yourself.  You'll like it. 

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