________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 28 . . . . March 27, 2015



Carson Ellis.
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press (Distributed in Canada by Random House Canada), 2015.
40 pp., hardcover, $19.00.
ISBN 978-0-7636-6529-6.

Preschool-grade 1 / Ages 4-6.

Review by Sabrina Wong.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Review Copy.



This is my home, and this is me.
Where is your home?
Where are you?

Home is a charming first solo picture book from Carson Ellis. This debut work explores the idea of home in many different cultures and places, both real and imaginary. Ellis, who is best known for her illustration work for the "Wildwood" series and the band the Decemberists, has a light and playful writing style that pairs well with her gorgeous illustrations.

      Home is a great book to share with a young reader. Ellis' conversational tone and rhythm makes it a great read-aloud. The book also has excellent pacing: Ellis easily shifts between sections where she describes a scene for the reader and sections where she uses probing questions to engage the reader. In her descriptive sections, she uses opposites, such as country and city, clean and messy, and tall and short, to reinforce basic language arts skills. She then prompts participation from the reader by asking a series of questions: "But whose home is this? And what about this?" (pp. 19-20). The detailed illustrations encourage young readers to use their imaginations to create stories and lives for the homes' inhabitants. Ellis' choice to keep the text sparse allows the richness of the illustrations and the readers' imaginations to guide the book's experience. There is so much to explore and unpack in each illustration that a child may spot something new with each reading.

      Ellis' illustrative style is key to her storytelling success. She has a wonderful gift for visual composition: she utilizes white space to create clean and well-framed illustrations. In her media selection, Ellis uses gouache and ink to create a dreamy effect similar to watercolour but with greater vibrancy and opacity. She keeps the main palette fairly neutral with browns and greys but uses bright pops of colour to make her illustrations lively and fun. She whimsically includes pictures of "[s]ea homes" and "[b]ee homes" (pp. 17-18), and, more importantly, she recognizes the diversity of people who share our world. By including people of different ethnicities in her illustrations, Ellis provides young readers with the opportunity to see people who resemble them in a book and helps to foster respect for people of different colours and cultures.

      It can be challenging to discuss cultural differences in a way that is respectful and educational for young readers. Ellis' use of ethnic stereotypes in her illustrations can be seen in two lights: a problematic representation that emphasizes otherness or easy cultural shorthand that allows the story to keep its pace. Two spreads, in particular, may lead to further reflection on this topic. The illustration accompanying the text, "Some homes are wigwams" (p. 6), shows a group of three brown-skinned figures, presumably Algonquin, in traditional-style dress and tending to a fire in front of a wigwam. Her inclusion of First Nations homes in a historical overview of homes is a good attempt at providing balance. It is refreshing to see references that address diverse histories. However, later on in the book, I find Ellis' representation of "the home of a Kenyan blacksmith" (p. 24) problematic. In contrast to the palatial "home of a Slovakian duchess" on the facing page, the Kenyan blacksmith's home is a shanty. There is a stark visual contrast between white and black on this spread: white is associated with wealth and black with poverty. For some readers, this spread may be a red light, but, if viewed in a more constructive manner, it could serve as a jumping-off point for introducing social justice concepts in a tangible and age-appropriate way. Young readers could be prompted to consider the commonalities rather than the differences between the figures on the two facing pages and to recognize that these disparities may be visible in the homes in their own communities. The adults who share this book with young readers may choose to extend the reading experience to talk about these important issues if they feel the child is ready for that discussion. For the most part, Ellis has handled diversity in a way that is sensitive to the abilities of her young readers.

      Home is an excellent debut picture book offering from Carson Ellis. Her stunning illustrations and succinct text are a winning combination for young readers. Home would be a valuable addition to any library.


Sabrina Wong is a librarian at SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary, AB.

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

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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ISSN 1201-9364
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