Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Thoughts on "A Place to Call Home"

Deacon, Alexis. 2011. A Place to Call Home. Ill. by Vivian Schwarz. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

I am on somewhat of a vacation, taking my eldest daughter off to college for the first time. What does this have to do with children’s lit, you ask? Well, there are many children’s books that are often given as gifts on these occasions – many are the children who have received copies of Dr. Suess’, Oh, the Places You’ll Go (1990 Random House), upon graduating high school. Perhaps Neil Gaiman’s, Instructions, (2010 Harper Collins), is on your list of timely and apropos graduation gift books as well, or Peter H. Reynolds’, The North Star (2009 Candlewick).

Here’s a new one, however, that may have escaped your notice -

A Place to Call Home

While it is not a story of individual possibility or achievement (it features seven hamster siblings), it is a humorous and touching story of exploration which begins like this,
What is this? 

It is a small, dark hole.
It is also a home. A nice, warm, safe home. The trouble is, if you grow up in a small, dark, hole, even if you start out tiny, there comes a time when you’ve grown too big, and then you to go …

out into the world.

(cue the humor)

From this point, the comical watercolor illustrations feature the hand-lettered, word bubble conversations of the hamsters. Armed with a paper towel tube, two plastic gloves, a faucet, an old boot and a lampshade, the hapless hamsters start out into the wild world - crossing the sea (the dog’s spilled water bowl), the desert (a ripped basement sandbag), and other perils, including the aforementioned dog. The illustrations are so funny, but it is the final double-spread photograph that pulls the book together and gives it a sense of poignancy.

This is a book that one might enjoy for its hilarious artwork or its message of cooperation and bravery; but for me and for my daughter, leaving her small hole and heading out on her own, it’s a perfect fable for a new journey into that great big world.

Now, where are those tissues? (sniff, sniff)

Publishers Weekly review

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