Julia’s House for Lost Creatures
Ben Hatke / First Second Books
So let me start by saying this was a first for me: Children’s books do not typically fall within my “review wheelhouse” because typically my experience with them has been reading and re-reading ‘the classics’ (Dr. Seuss and Company) in cartoony voices, with little real consideration for anything remotely resembling an analytical approach to things.
I would hope, then, having established that – that it should stand out that I have elected to go out of my way and do just that. While my wife and I do not yet have a hyperactive little booger-factory of our own, I proudly begin what will become my hypothetical little ankle-biters presumably-expansive book collection with Julia’s House for Lost Creatures. I find that (in really reading over a children’s book with a critical eye) a few things stand out as a real necessity:
For one, it needs an aesthetic that will catch and hold the attention of a squirming little monster fighting sleep and ready to bite anyone who says otherwise. It needs to catch their attention and (more importantly) hold it.
Second, it needs to have actual literary content that tells a story worth following and (the real challenge) do so in as succinct a way as possible. This feels like it would be the true challenge; writing something worth reading, and doing so as if trying to compose a tweet to an incredibly drunk friend who is going to lose focus if you string too many words together.
Ben Hatke’s use of pace and tone (and more impressively white-space) are phenomenal. When very little needs said, to place a focus on either the unfolding of a scene or the incredible abundance of eye candy, he gives a quiet nod to those pages and lets your eyes wander. A mostly blank page helps capture a feeling of pressing silence, while a cluttered house and a rapid barrage of requests from new residents expertly lend the house a frantic feel. All the while you’re left with a feast for your eyes to pour over – all sorts of fantastic creatures and interesting background details about the house itself. It’s the kind of book that I – as a proud geek and lover of all things fantastical – want my (again, hypothetical/eventual) child exposed to. A chance to become excited about imagination, to revel in the creative spectrum, all the while reinforcing things like the need to help others (and do your chores), and how even those mundane tasks can let you still show what you can do and make it your own. Ben Hatke has struck gold, and I whole-heartedly hope to see a series of Julia’s House books to decorate my shelves with in the future.