This old house: a review of House Held Up By Trees


House Held Up By Trees
by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klassen
Candlewick, 2012

In Ted Kooser’s House Held Up By Trees, a man fights against nature to keep his perfectly manicured lawn, armed only with a push mower and some diligent plucking to keep the surrounding trees from creeping in.  Nature, as it has a tendency to do, outlasts the man who grows older, along with his children, and eventually abandons the house and lawn, allowing the trees to grow, elevate and protect the house in their branches.

Jon Klassen’s illustrations in muted browns, greens, yellows, and reds convey the stark contrast between the natural wild tangle of the woods and the orderly expanse of the artificially bare yard.  Working with Ted Kooser’s beautiful text – full of repetition and rhythm – the illustrations also draw a similar line between childhood and adulthood; the two children are fully depicted and always near the forest, while the father and the children as adults are often headless, torso-less, or facing away into the flat horizon rather than toward the woods.

I found myself surprised by how much I felt for the house in this book and was satisfied with its rise to glory in the end.  It went from perfectly kept and protected from nature to abandoned, dilapidated and vandalized to finally ascending on the shoulders of the very thing the owner tried to protect it from in the first place.  While initially the old man seems to be the protagonist, as the narrative goes on, the house takes on the roll of the main character and I would argue even the woods is a main character of sorts.  The two rise above adversity, quite literally, in the end.

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