Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: FARMHOUSE by Sophie Blackall
Introduction by Heavy Medal Award Committee Member Tally Klinefelter
FARMHOUSE, which occurs in a single sentence, creates a rich setting that comes to life in the found-object illustrations, combined with Blackall’s signature watercolors. The text, which rhymes periodically (but not distractingly), follows the house first from room to room and then through time, as the family that once called it home moves on and the house is left abandoned. As the book concludes, we are introduced to a new character–Blackall–as she discovers the house and creates the book itself to keep the house’s story alive.
Two-time Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall may have a shot at a 3rd with the layered illustrations, which zoom in on each room of the house to tell a small story. Each reread reveals more small details. (My particular favorite is the journey of the family photograph in the “short front hall.”) Blackall’s text is evocative, and, even without the accompanying illustrations, paints a picture of “a flaming cloud,” “gnarled apples,” and “wallpaper peeled like onion skins.”
Another strength of FARMHOUSE is the presentation of themes. We see the cycle of life, as the family and house both age. We see the space transform as we reencounter the rooms. The theme is well stated in the closing lines of the book, which will make me tear up if I think about them for too long:
In the home where twelve children were born and raised, where they ate and sleptAnd worked and played and laughed and loved and grew quite old,Where they’ll live on, now, in this book that you hold, Like your stories will, so long as they’re told.
The idea that the family, like the house, is now gone, but will live on in the telling of their stories is really powerful. We see the family grow up and out, living their childhood dreams of studying the stars and visiting the sea, and the reader is left with a sense of peace that their stories had a happy ending.
[And, hey, wouldn’t it be a really cool piece of Newbery trivia if a book that’s only one sentence long got some recognition?]
Heavy Medal Award Committee members and others are now invited to discuss this book further in the Comments section below. Please start with positive observations first; stick to positives until at least three comments have been posted or we reach 1:00 pm EST. Let the Mock Newbery discussion begin!
About Emily Mroczek-Bayci
Emily Mroczek (Bayci) is a freelance children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs. She served on the 2019 Newbery committee. You can reach her at email@example.com.
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