“Over a hill, at the end of a road, by a glittering stream that twists and turns, stands a house,” begins two-time Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall’s deft, sophisticated Farmhouse.
A couple raises 12 children in the house, and Blackall captures the details of their everyday lives. We see marks on the wall to note the growing children’s heights; the “serious room” where the family gathers for important discussions; the attic bedroom where the children sleep and dream under its sloping ceiling; the farmhouse where they milk the cows “no matter the weather”; and much more.
Despite all this bustling activity, full of the stuff of life itself, Blackall’s text is written in the past tense; she’s commemorating a home that once was, but is no more. She devotes one brief spread to the children’s adult lives, describing what they did after leaving the farmhouse. Once the last grown child leaves, the house falls into utter disarray. A bear even makes its home in the basement!
Soon, Blackall herself enters the book and relates how she found the house and filled her arms with as much as she could carry away. Wallpaper, clothing, books and newspapers, handkerchiefs and more—all from the house itself—were incorporated into the artwork for “this book that you hold” so that the house and everyone in it will “live on . . . like your stories will, so long as they’re told.”
In a lengthy author’s note, accompanied by photographs, Blackall explains that she purchased a farm in upstate New York that included the house that inspired the book. Farmhouse is an openhearted ode to that house, with 48 spectacular pages that absolutely beg to be read aloud. Blackall’s spreads are remarkably textured and detailed. They brim with life and hum with magic, yet skillfully avoid being too crowded or hard to follow.
Vividly realized, Farmhouse is filled with a tenderness and a longing that aches as you confront its bittersweet memories. Yet it leaves you with gratitude that an artist like Blackall, with the observational prowess of a poet, stumbled upon it and brought it to life again.