By Janelle B. Mathis, PhD, University of North Texas and Katie Loomis, Librarian and Doctoral Student, University of North Texas
In this last installment of January’s MTYT, Janelle B. Mathis and Katie Loomis talk about the picturebook The House of Lost and Found, translated from Swedish and written by Martin Widmark and Emilia Dziubak. The theme for this month focuses on child agency and situations where children can relate to adults through personal relationship, actions, words or questions. This is the heartwarming story of how a chance encounter with a child turns into a positive life changing beginning for the main character.
The story is about Niles, an older citizen who lives alone in his gloomy house filled with memories of his artist wife, his children and his past. His life is filled with only these memories. One night after he went to bed, the doorbell rings and a young boy introduces himself as the next-door neighbor and asks Niles to watch his plant while on holiday. Although angry at being disturbed, he began to begrudgingly take care of the plant. In the beginning, the plant is still buried in the soil and is not yet visible. Each morning after he wakes up, Niles talks to the plant until eventually, a stem emerges. As the plant grows, Niles becomes more in tune with the present, leaving the past behind. He slowly opens up the dark house, cleans it and begins reading again. The plant turns out to be a poppy- a favorite of his late wife as reflected in her paintings. When the boy returns, Niles life evidences change as he accepts the boy’s invitation to sit in their garden. Again, a child has innocently shared life with a lonely adult, thus planting seeds of agency and hope. Hand drawn pictures using colored pencils yield dramatic illustrations. While Niles’ actions and emotions are all believable, the artistic elements add a fantasy element as the plant transforms his house.
Janelle: The simple act of the boy asking Niles to care for his plant in a very assuming way brings new life to Niles’ existence through the life of the plant Niles was caring for. Responsibility and friendships are critical to maintain agency and a sense of purpose in old age. This book, like The Visitor shared in last weeks issue, uses dark illustrations in the beginning (to include the end pages) with color added as Niles’ life is brightened by caring for the plant. The focus is on Niles and the journey he takes as he leaves his loneliness behind, and yet the child’s simple request in giving Niles responsibility for the plant has initiated this journey. While the boy comments that his parents said he could ask, the interaction between the child and Niles provides a stronger sense of responsibility- almost as if he is taking care of the child. It also provides less resistance to accepting the task, I think, than if an adult had asked. The detailed illustrations begin with a dark, mysterious mood- much as the depressed feeling of the elderly widower might encompass. His gloominess is accentuated in the text by saying even his cat left (although readers see the cat return during the story). The illustrations maintain their detail as they become brighter throughout Niles’s journey.
Katie: Niles, the main character in the book, is sad and lonely since the passing of his wife Sara, who makes appearances in flashbacks and in his imagination. He also misses his children who are busy with their own lives. The beginning of book reminded me of the movie Up. Both of the main characters have lost their wives, behave like curmudgeons, and are ultimately changed for the better by children. Niles’ life was changed by a simple knock on the door and the depositing of a plant in his hands by his precocious child neighbor. I loved how the rest the story focuses on Niles taking care of the plant while the boy is on holiday. Who knew that a plant (and his owner) could give someone something to focus on, to the point where they start talking to it and began to see the good in life? We see Niles change for the better over the course of the story. Even his cat comes back! We continue to see Niles change as the flower grows and blooms. If that isn’t a great metaphor for change and growth, I don’t know what is! The book ends with a hope for Niles that was not there at the beginning. He is willing to go and explore the world outside of his home and garden. That sense of hope is seen in the sunlight of the final illustration in the book.
Title: The House of Lost and Found
Author: Martin Widmark
Illustration: Emilia Dziubak
Publisher: Floris Books
Pub Date: September 4, 2018