Written by Cynthia Rylant
Illustrated By Wendy Anderson Halperin
This book takes a walk through home—where the heart is. It’s an old cliché, but upon reading this story, I’ve realized I’ve misunderstood it’s meaning for decades now. From childhood through young adulthood, when I’ve heard or read “home is where the heart is,” it’s the “house” I’ve focused on. My translation would have been something like “The house is the heart of the family”—the heart representing everything lovely, warm, good, and sacred. Now that I have my own home and my own family to fill it with, I see it means almost the exact opposite as far as the “home” bit is concerned. A home is actually an empty thing. It’s a shell. A vessel. But, it’s where the heart is. The heart is the love, warmth, and goodness of the people who fill it. As the story reads, “it is the living inside that makes it wonderful…it is what the house means to those who live there.” The people are the heart and the home is where you’ll find them. This may seem like a slight difference, but it’s no such thing.
The illustrations in this book are trickled with details to represent this meaning. Every room in the house has a unique mobile hanging from the ceiling. Scattered toys, books, maps, tea cups, blankets, stuffed animals, the stuff of hobbies and handiwork…the things of the people who live within. They’re symbols of childhood, parenthood, and family-hood. I think of my own home and its clutter. Books and toys are the confetti of our home and its never ending celebration of life. There is no better feeling for a home than alive—alive with laughter and footsteps and “I love you’s”. The thing about being alive is that life is both beautiful and messy. The home featured in this story reminisces joyful chaos. It resonates with me because this is what I want for our home: joyful chaos, aliveness, warmth, coziness, and everything unique to my family. I want it full of our heirlooms, traditions, and symbols, our heritage, messes, and interests, our clutter, values, and projects. Full of us.
My children can’t wait to see the next page, yet they enjoy taking their time through this book—a sure sign of good literature no matter the case. They are savoring its feeling, as am I. There are plenty of books about faraway or make-believe places. They’re fun and exciting and easy to be entranced by. But this story inspires awe in the most gentle way, in the very place we sit, and how magical is that? We revel in the unique interests of the people who live in this cozy place. “That boy has a red caboose like me.” “She likes to draw in her room. I like that too.” “They are stirring batter like when we make pancakes.” “That bubble bath looks like so much fun.” I love to hear the parts my boys connect with, because it shows me what they hold dear in their own life and in their own home—in their own people. The house in this book is a cozy house indeed, but it’s the people, the characters, who invite us into their world. By doing so, I’m honored by my children’s invitation into their own world and heart—my favorite place to be.
It’s a well-known saying: “Play is the child’s work.” A child who plays is a child who is learning. All he needs is an imagination, but good toys help. These are some toys enjoyed by our family that pair well with the idea of “home”. Click the image to find out more.