A House is a House for Me (Mary Ann Hoberman and Betty Fraser, 1978)

My grandmother read me this book when I was little, and I love it. Not every child will like this book, nor will every adult. But those who do like it will love it.

A hill is a house for an ant, an ant
A hive is a house for a bee
A hole is a house for a mole or a mouse
And a house is a house for me!

You get the idea right there—but it goes on in more depth and more complexity than you would expect.

How peaches are houses for peachpits
And sometimes are houses for worms;
How trashcans are houses for garbage
And garbage make houses for germs.

The abstractness that the concept reaches is the part some readers will find alienating. Yes, it gets a little weird. And the book acknowledges as much—”Perhaps I am stretching things some.” But it’s also the thing that will hit some children in just the right place.

And if you get started in thinking,
I think you will find it is true
That the more that you think about houses for things
The more things are houses, to you…
And once you get started in thinking this way,
It seems that whatever you see
Is either a house or it lives in a house,
And a house is a house for me!

The right reader does start thinking this way, and it becomes a conceptual game children and adults can play together throughout the day. Children predisposed to thoughtfulness will find great joy in the concepts here.

The illustrations are complex and old-fashioned and slightly odd—like the text, they will put some people off and attract others. I think they’re fascinating in their distinctness. And there’s great vocabulary in the book, words that don’t get used much any more—a sheep’s house is a “fold,” a boat docks in a “slip.”

You should know that there’s a page detailing the names of the traditional dwellings of various Native American tribes, which I am always on the edge of finding inappropriate, especially since the last tribe listed, “Mohee,” may not have existed (or it might be a reference to the Mohegan tribe?). Even if the information is historically accurate, it feels dated and inappropriately essentializing towards an entire people. Like saying, “All Texans live on ranches,” except with an undertone of historical marginalization and racism.

That said, it’s just one page in a book with a tremendous amount to recommend it. It’s a book that will light up the mind of the right child. Consider giving it a look.

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More book reviews at jarrodgreen.net!

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