Leo and his father love their home in an old blue house right next to a majestic fir tree. It’s a rickety, scrappy home with peeling paint, a mossy roof, “leaks and creaks” and a heater that frequently breaks. And that is just how they like it.
But the neighborhood around the blue house is changing, with nearby homes torn down to build modern apartments. When the landlord sells their blue house, Leo and his father must also move. Grief-stricken, they slowly acclimate to their new home by painting its interior; they even paint a picture of their beloved old blue house and its fir tree onto a bedroom wall. As they take their time unpacking their familiar belongings into their unfamiliar surroundings, their new house ever so slowly becomes more of a home.
Author and illustrator Phoebe Wahl uses every tool at her disposal to carefully construct the details of her indelible characters and their world. Leo’s hair hangs down nearly to his waist, while his father sports a bearded, scruffy look. When they want to vent their anger about being forced to move, they turn on music, stomping and raging as a team: “They shredded on guitar, and Leo did a special scream solo.” (This may go down as the most punk picture book of 2020.)
The blue house is cluttered but relaxed, filled with things Leo and his dad love, such as vinyl records, plants, art on the walls and a stereo with big speakers. Their delightfully unkempt yard includes a thriving vegetable garden, tall sunflowers, a trampoline and a clothesline. Rendered in watercolor, gouache, collage and colored pencil, Wahl’s illustrations are much like the old blue house itself—ramshackle and endearing, with nothing glossy about them. They are as worn-in, cozy and comfortable as the home Leo and his father leave behind and mourn.
Best of all, however, is Wahl’s depiction of the tender and loving relationship between father and son. In one image, as the two sit dejectedly on a mattress surrounded by unpacked boxes in their new home, Leo leans into his father for an embrace, resting his head in his father’s lap, the gesture speaking volumes while saying nothing at all.
The Blue House is an immensely satisfying picture book about a family acclimating to a big change.