The House of Grass and Sky

It’s been slow, trying to get reviews done, but the book that keeps coming back to my mind is the story of this house, The House of Grass and Sky by Mary Lyn Ray with art by E. B. Goodale– art of that special quality which captures the heart of the book and completes it, simultaneously.

This is a book Candlewick sent me to consider for review before Easter (you know, back in April) (it is now June) (yes I feel bad). It immediately lodged itself in my mind and waited. Just like the house.

When I did my picture book course with a few kids last semester, we had a wonderful time considering the fullness of what a story could be (“boy gets wrong sweater in mail”– name that book), or who the main character can be (a train, for example), or what an ending can be (do we really get cake every morning?). I could summarize this book as follows: a house gets built, people live there, move out, other people move in, others move out, and eventually it’s an old house and no one lives there until people do. The idea of someone making a picture book out of evolving real estate questions is boggling– though, of course, this isn’t really the first or even the most “on the nose” example of that being done exceptionally well: Phoebe Wahl’s The Blue House is a slightly more structured example of a book about having to leave a house, from the perspective of the family.

This has a more dreamlike though no less realistic quality. The story is the house’s story. I was about to say “doesn’t everyone have a house they love in their memory?” but then I realized maybe that’s not so. For me, I read this book remembering certain houses in my own story at certain points, and wistfully hoping for a house one day which fits me the way that this house loves its families. The house I still think of as “my house” is the house where I lived in Sackville, New Brunswick, looking back over a marsh. I loved not seeing houses behind my house, but being able to walk to town or the park from my house. I still feel that’s ideal. I feel that house in my mind.

This house, in this book, is a patient house. A house which loves stories old and new. This house stayed in my mind, hoping I would share the book with others who would move in, and love the house, and feel cozy and safe.

I feel deeply grateful to Candlewick, actually, for sending me this book which was, yes, good for a season of rebirth, but, more than that, was absolutely right for the moment in which we live. I was down for the count with covid and my brain is actually still not back to full order. This is a deeply tough virus to kick. But this house really comforted me! “The house,” I thought, “learned to say Goodbye but it also learned Hello. So can I.”

I felt bad, initially, not writing about this book for Easter, which was what Candlewick sent it for. But I think it’s deeply appropriate for this new transitional time: the end of the school year, resting for summer, anticipating changes.

I think parents and teachers and students are all, right now, adjusting to a new and constant state of change. Here in MA, the DESE has made some new announcements about changes to the recommendations and programs and requirements around covid. Elsewhere, others are doing other changes. There is no consistency, there is no cohesion, and it’s very difficult to know what to do.

As always, I look to books for help– and so often it’s a picture book that has the answer. The answer is never simple in a good picture book. (“And it was still hot.” Gorgeous last line.) This book is, though, here for us in the way the house is there for us and for families. It’s a conversation with yourself, with your kids, with your students. You are allowed to feel scared, lonely, unsure. You will learn to say Goodbye and Hello. There is no easy, but, in the words of Julian of Norwich “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” How frequently that’s misunderstood! She saw devastation as she said that, she was under no illusions. This house went through frequent loss, but was well.

But, the house is well, and so are we, and so shall you be. It’s OK not to be OK, and yet we’ll be OK.

Yes, this can feel like a sad post, but, ultimately, I think it’s a reassuring one, just as this book and this house go through sorrow but come out with happiness in the end.

(And I want to tell Mary Lyn Ray and E. B. Goodale: Not everyone gets compared to Julian of Norwich! I’m a fan.)

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