July 07, 2017

Heartwood Hotel: A True Home

Written by Kallie George
Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
163 pp.
Ages 7-12
July 2017

The Heartwood Hotel is enchanting and Mona is the endearing mouse who brings heart to it and this first book in Kallie George's new series. Though the Heartwood Hotel is a long-established abode for travellers in search of rest and safety, Mona stumbles upon it when displaced by a storm from her stump–hardly a home, just her most recent residence–and transported by raging water deep into Fernwood Forest.  She is given shelter for the night by the badger proprietor, Mr. Heartwood, in exchange for help in cleaning up after the First Acorn Festival, a rollicking event held in the ballroom.
From Heartwood Hotel: A True Home 
by Kallie George 
illus. by Stephanie Graegin
But when he learns of her sad story of no family or home, only a walnut-shell suitcase with a heart carved into it, he takes her on as a maid to assist Tilly the squirrel while the housekeeper Mrs. Higgins, a hedgehog, is under the weather.  Though Tilly is supposed to familiarize Mona with the routines and layout of the hotel, she is rather mean to the young mouse and Mona seems to make many a mistake as she learns for herself what to do and not do.  Fortunately, there is a wonderful cast of characters to help her out: Gilles the lizard desk clerk; Ms. Prickles the porcupine cook; Mr. Higgins the hedgehog gardener; and Maggie and Maurice, the sibling laundry bunnies.  But it's the guests like skunks Lord and Lady Sudsbury and Miss Cybele the swallow that truly recognize Mona's spirit in supporting the hotel's motto,
We live by "Protect and Respect," 
not by "Tooth and Claw." (pg. 11)
Still after one too many mistakes and Tilly encouraging her to pack up before she is fired, Mona departs the hotel.  Huddled in an old log, she learns of a planned attack by wolves. The little mouse rushes back to warn Mr. Heartwood and the rest, coming up with a plan to ensure the safety of the Heartwood Hotel and her new family of staff and guests.
"...as she explained, the eyes of the animals grew wide and bright with the power of a big idea, of a brave idea, of a brilliant idea." (pg. 136)
From Heartwood Hotel: A True Home 
by Kallie George 
illus. by Stephanie Graegin

How do I convey to readers the infinite sweetness and gentility of A True Home? From the warm-hearted atmosphere and compassionate mission of the Heartwood Hotel and its staff to the plot of finding home, amidst common foibles and uncommon dangers, Kallie George's text is rich in friendship, courtesy, diversity and affection.  That majestic tree's hotel is built upon a solid foundation of respect for all creatures and the natural world of interrelationships, though as in the human world some need to be avoided if one is to survive.  But even the wolves, though frightening to many of the residents at the Heartwood Hotel, have an inane quality about them, squabbling about their achievements and the existence of the Heartwood Hotel. By doing this, Kallie George makes A True Home a suitable read-aloud for younger children who will easily be able to imagine the Hotel with its miscellaneous accommodations (including the root floors with hibernation suites, trunk floors, branch floors, twig floors and honeymoon and penthouse suites) and star-gazing balcony and ballroom. Graced with the black-and-white pencil drawings of American illustrator Stephanie Graegin, Heartwood Hotel's first book, A True Home, has surely found a place for itself in youngCanLit by captivating and gladdening our own hearts.


The launch for the first two books in the Heartwood Hotel series, A True Home and The Greatest Gift, will be held next week in Vancouver so, if you can, be sure to check it out. Details here.

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