In July, we will have lived in our house for two years. I believe in the power of place, and there is no place other than this house where I would rather live.
With river, woods, garden, fruit trees (all hidden quite magnificently in the midst of a suburban neighborhood), in my homestead I am at peace.
As are my kids when we read Building Our House by Jonathan Bean (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013).
According to the Author’s Note, Building Our House tells the story of Bean’s parents’ building their homestead over the course of five years when Bean was a child.
It begins: “Today is moving day. We left our old house in the city and are moving to the country.” In the first illustration we see the family driving away from the city in an overloaded blue pick-up truck that we later learn is named “Willys.”
“Our family is building our new house away from the road, back down a dirt lane.”
“My brother helps Dad carry the tools. ‘The right tools for the right job,’ Dad says. I help Mom carry the plans. ‘A good plan for a good house,’ says Mom. Willys carries everything else.”
The story, told as much if not more through pictures than text, details how the family drills a well for water, sets wires for electricity, buys lumber from the sawmill, gathers rocks from neighboring pastures and then settles into their small portable trailer to live until the house is built.
Seasons pass and construction continues, complete with detailed pictures of diggers and dumps, hammers and hoses.
Every member of the family helps build the house, even the extended family (and friends) for the “…frame-raising party!”
When the house is livable the family moves in, and one of my favorite illustrations is of them gathered around the stove, Dad warming his hands next to a tea kettle about to whistle, Mom looking at blueprints while snuggling her then youngest child, narrator curled up with pillows and a blanket at her Mother’s feet.
It is all so cozy.
My favorite picture is on the next page—a two-page spread of nothing but the house’s blueprints, with a few architect pencil shavings and a steaming cup of coffee keeping the bottom left corner from curling up like the top right.
I can taste the coffee.
Although we didn’t build our house, the owners who did left us the blueprints, and I delight in their crinkle as I spread them out on the table for a study. Furthermore, with every new project—inside and out—we are building, a home.
I have also been able to help, in a very small way, our friends Jake and Meaghan build their straw-bale homestead in Southwest Wisconsin. Everything about this book, from the original details of the house to the clearly unbreakable bond between family members—to the coffee—reminds me of these friends, and their home.
And my entire family has helped build the Nies homestead in Ontario—a piece of property more magnificent than any in the world. My dream is to someday, like Bean, have a book that pays homage to my parents for the gift of growing up in this place.
Finally, I have watched my brother and his family and several close friends design and build their own homes here in Oconomowoc.
I believe in the power of all these places.
For now, this picture book is one that we (my 3-year-old, my 19-month-old and myself) deeply enjoy looking at—no matter what page we turn to first. We find diggers, cats, brothers and sisters playing together (a favorite is of the kids hiding beneath the wheelbarrow), and the Mom, who after several seasons of building is pregnant and by the end is cradling a newborn.
Even if we don’t sit and read Building Our House word for word just yet, we pull it off the shelf and “read” it all the time—I think because it feels so much like home.