March 29, 2021

This House is Home

Written by Deborah Kerbel
Illustrated by Yong Ling Kang
Owlkids Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
March 2021

The concept of home has always been an important focus in literature: finding it, establishing it, cultivating it, holding onto it, and sadly even losing it. For some, it's ephemeral, fleeting in its nature, and for others it is the bedrock of life. For the families in This House is Home, it is both.
From This House is Home by Deborah Kerbel, illus. by Yong Ling Kang
Lily and her rabbit family live in a home that her grandmother says is "old and steady as mountains." But when a pair of suited foxes with clipboards approach Grandma about buying the house, she politely declines.
This house is home, and we'll live here for the rest of forever.
From This House is Home by Deborah Kerbel, illus. by Yong Ling Kang
Problem is that everyone else around them sells to the developers, and there is much upheaval as friends pack up and goodbyes are shared. And then the diggers arrive, flattening houses and trees, and constructing a road that like a "long gray tongue snaked toward our house, closer and closer, until it had pushed right up to our door. It didn't bother knocking."
From This House is Home by Deborah Kerbel, illus. by Yong Ling Kang
The construction workers might have placed pylons around their house but their house is now situated in the middle of a wide road of noisy, smelly vehicles racing past their windows. The impact on their garden was evident but also clear was the impact within their home: dirt, noise, irritability, and distress.
From This House is Home by Deborah Kerbel, illus. by Yong Ling Kang
But a solution to their problem comes to Lily, the artist, in a dream in which, "The road had melted into a sea. The cars had shrunken to fish. My house had grown sails." Their house would remain their home, just in a different location.

Having a development threaten your house, your home is a nerve-racking prospect. Undoubtedly it's a frustration of many whose abodes stand in the way of planning projects that look at the big picture and not the individual lives affected. The menace of the foxes' repeated efforts to get Grandma to sell are tangible, though she is always polite and gracious, but Deborah Kerbel's words focus on the calm and love inside the home and leaves the destruction and disquiet outside. Sadly, there comes a time when the outside encroaches on the inner sanctum of home. Still Grandma's strength of conviction that their house would remain steadfastly their home and Lily's problem-solving ensure that home will endure as such.

Illustrator Yong Ling Kang, who illustrated Tanna's Owl (2020), continues to charm with her watercolour art that adds the whimsy of a bunny family living in their home, having picnics, playing, knitting, and growing. She brightens those pages with all colours, saving the greys and browns for the mayhem of the construction, and gives fluidity to the story, indicative of the transitional nature of the house, with her brushstrokes and lines. As such, Yong Ling Kang's art echoes the joys and frustrations of Deborah Kerbel's characters from comfort through distress and back to buoyant.

This House is Home reminds us that home is more than a structure. It has roots that are grown of family, and, though it can change, as necessary, it carries the promise of steadfastness, even if in transition.

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