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The House Hardcover – September 1, 2009
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
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From School Library Journal
Grade 4 Up—The walls in a stone farmhouse literally talk in this first-person narrative that deals with the ravages of time and their effects on the structure and its inhabitants. After a brief history, the house (constructed in 1656, "a plague year") fast forwards to the dawn of the 20th century, when children discover its ruins. The quatrains, one to a spread, alternate between an AABB and ABBA rhyme scheme, thus avoiding singsong predictability. The formal tone, sophisticated vocabulary, and preoccupation with life's inevitable losses register the sensibility of an older and somewhat melancholy speaker: "From wife to widow…and the depths of grief./My furnace burns as children leave for school,/Bundled in virtue, books, and classroom fuel./How beautiful their innocence, how brief." Adults will connect to the sentiments, while children will pore over Innocenti's marvelously detailed spreads, composed in an oversize, vertical format and set in an Italian hill town. Readers see a family rebuild, move in, celebrate marriage and childbirth, and mourn their dead. Winnowing, grape harvesting, military and refugee occupation, and hippies picnicking on the terraced hills of the once again crumbling property are among the activities captured in the watercolors. The viewer's perspective is fixed, but the light, weather conditions, and human interventions create fresh worlds on each page. Innocenti's whimsy surfaces in the 1999 do over. In the subset of books dealing intelligently with the effects of time on a single location, this is a provocative choice.—Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
A stone house on a hill is the narrator and forms the keystone for this picture book for older-readers. Spanning the twentieth century, Lewis’ verses, and more vitally, Innocenti’s artwork, show the transformation of the old house in an unspecified (but likely Italian) countryside. The tableau for the artwork remains the same throughout: the house and terraced hillside occupy a static position on the pages but grow and morph with each step, providing distinct snapshots to distill different eras and passing generations. The unfolding of small dramas will have children eagerly flipping the pages back and forth in time: a wispy tree planted in 1905 grows majestically to preside over a wedding in 1915, is naught but a stump by 1993, and is replaced by a pool in 1999. The poetry, though skillful, can be obscure for the intended audience (“By spring’s pastoral play, the hill, beguiled, / Returns a natural likeness”), but the fascinating and immersive imagery goes to great length to bring it to life. A stately book that will reward many repeat visits. Grades 4-7. --Ian Chipman
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There are many things to appreciate in this book of wonders (for truly it is a treasure that can be perused and browsed through again and again, yielding new insights each time) - there are the beautiful and poetic quatrains of poet J. Patrick Lewis that tell readers of the transformations taking place over the years, as well as of the events that occur in the house and its surroundings (weddings, war, etc.). All of these are beautifully conveyed through the lyrical quatrains.
Then there are the gorgeous double spreads of the house, beautifully illustrated and pictured with great detail by artist Roberto Innocenti. My five-year-old may not appreciate the deeper meanings within the quatrains, but she loved the illustrations. We spent almost an hour browsing through the pictures, and she found great pleasure in identifying the changes that occurs around the house and within it- as well as other subtle changes, e.g. the fact that the toadstools that are found in abundance slowly give way to other types of vegetation; the changes in people's manner of dressing over the years; even the family cat which changes from one to another! Such treasures to be uncovered - I have never quite read a book like this before and it is one that I can enjoy again and again. This is a work of art and poetry that can be kept and appreciated for years to come, the sort of book I picture handing down through the generations. A true classic indeed!