Unlike books for adults, children’s books have two audiences: the reader and the listener. I’ve grown to appreciate titles with a solid, soothing, poetic rhythm, and to dread books with sing-songy verse that feels absurd to say out loud. The House in the Night (2008), written by Susan Marie Swanson and illustrated by Beth Krommes, is composed of a pleasing series of declarative statements that build up from bedtime scenes within a cozy house to a subtle science lesson about the moon’s glow (“on the moon’s face shines the sun”) before coming back down again into a child’s bedroom. The primarily black and white illustrations remind me of Grant Wood’s painting The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere; a literal bird’s eye view of houses tucked into rolling hills. They have the best elements of a Thomas Kincade painting–highlights of warm light, a charming collection of homes–and none of the cheese. As a parent, the book’s celebration of banal details gives me joy. I enjoy how a dog follows the mom in the book from room to room as the child prepares for bedtime, finally settling into a dog bed with his own miniature version of the child’s teddy bear.
When my daughter was a little younger she delighted in pointing out the dog, cats, and bird as they made appearances throughout the book. I’ve watched her interest in a particular book evolve, from a focus on one element to another. Now the short sentences and similarity to her own routine seem to resonate with her, and I love to catch her sitting with the book, attempting to read it aloud to herself from memory: “Here is the key to the house.” Babies turn out to be highly focused literary critics, giving insight on books that is cumulatively fascinating.
Though it won a Caldecott Medal, I rarely see The House in the Night among gifts at baby showers, and haven’t heard other parents talk about it much. A friend happened to send it to us, and now it’s one of my favorites that I reach for again and again at bedtime.
–Jamie Lausch Vander Broek
Librarian for Art & Design,
University of Michigan
President, Board of Trustees,
Ann Arbor District Library
Featured in August 2018 newsletter