February 09

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The Blue House by Phoebe Wahl – Review by Shilpa Mehta

The Blue House centers around Leo and his father’s beautiful home though not necessarily in a literal sense, yet it is cozy, filled with warmth and love, and a sanctuary for both father and son. Wahl’s illustrations speak volumes, there is much for the young readers to discover on each page that speaks of Leo’s and his father’s relationship. While the world around them is changing, the stability that comes from a nurturing parent-child relationship holds everything in balance. Wahl sensitively portrays the anguish that follows when Leo and his father must give up the blue house – the talk on the beach, Leo shuts himself in his room but must come out eventually, and father and son stomping and dancing to express anger and frustration that comes from having to give up a home because they must give up the house. Instead of providing a happy ending resolution where Leo and his father would not have to leave the blue house, Wahl focuses on the reality of change and that it must be accepted sometimes even when unwelcome. However, instead of dwelling on it, she shows young readers new beginnings. We see an empty hearth that eventually begins to warm up as Leo and his father begin to embrace it. The pain on seeing a gaping hole where the blue house once stood, the nostalgia and the desire to hold on is still there for Leo and his dad when they paint the blue house on the wall in their new home. Again, Wahl skillfully portrays that it is ok to hold on even as we embrace change and move forward.

The book offers educators and parents many opportunities to discuss big issues – the changing landscape of many suburban communities, issues around home ownership and tenacy, financial hardships, and parent-child bonds. Wahl does an excellent job of building the characters through different aspects of their daily lives. She defies gender norms by portraying Leo with long hair, pink socks, dotted pajamas and butterflies on his door. Her detailed illustrations not only complement the storyline but also add depth to the characters and rich details to the setting that a young reader will spontaneously connect to.

Finally, the sunflowers encircling the house on the front cover and growing in the yard are particularly symbolic of growth and change, renewal and continuity, and lend a heartfelt and timeless feel to Wahl’s thoughtfully illustrated story.       

Shilpa Mehta is a scientist and an educator who firmly believes that books can help children find wings to their imagination, fuel their desire to explore, and encourage their sense of wonder.