________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 10 . . . . January 11, 2008


The House That Max Built.

Maxwell Newhouse.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2008.
24 pp., hardcover, $22.99.
ISBN 978-0-88776-774-6.

Subject Heading:
House construction-Juvenile literature.           

Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 3-7.

Review by Todd Kyle.

***½ /4

Reviewed from f&g’s.


"Every house needs windows and doors," says Max. The crew follows the plans to place the windows and doors just so, to let the light in and make the house comfortable.

Folk artist and author Maxwell Newhouse set up his studio at an elementary school in Richmond, BC, to create a text-sparse picture book, likely autobiographical, about a man having a house built in a rural coastal area. Each page features an oil painting on canvas, framed with white space, and a short piece of text describing the phase of the design and construction process illustrated. Less a story than a nonfiction work, each page is almost a chapter unto itself, with the first letter of the text in a bold brush-stroke font to show a new beginning. At the end, Max's house is complete.

internal art

     While the text is simple and straightforward, more factual than literary, it is the illustrations that command most of the attention. In vivid colours and textures, the paintings are full of fascinating details that multiply with every reading. White-haired Max, himself, and a black dog can be found somewhere in each picture, sometimes with a visual joke about the dog’s misbehaving. The contractor and architect are also recognizable in many pictures. All of the people, including the sensitively unisex and multiracial work crew, are depicted with faces more stylized than emotive, and yet, as is typical of folk art, they seem alive and genuine.

     The most fascinating feature is the gradual passage of the seasons from phase to phase, from what appears to be summer to the following spring. One tree in particular can be seen turning from green to gold to brown and back again, and the final landscape work includes trees with spring blossoms. Winter is depicted, starting with a grey stormy sky, from the inside of the house looking through the windows as the interior work is done. The final picture of the finished house is framed exactly as the initial picture of the empty lot, giving the reader a distinct sense of place.

     Ending with a glossary of the tradespeople involved, this book will be a perfect match for young children, especially boys, who prefer to explore complex pictures and facts rather than stories. A treat.

Highly Recommended.

Todd Kyle, a former President of the Canadian Association of Children's Librarians, is currently a library branch manager in Mississauga, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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