Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts

We’re also inviting everyone to join our Check Off your Reading List Challenge 2014.


Sign up here to join us! Thanks to Iphigene, we now have our July-September linky up and running. We are also very excited to share that Pansing Books will be giving away copies of Slated by Teri Terry to two lucky CORL participants from July-September.

Carrie Gelson of There is a Book for That is also hosting #mustreadin2014.

Super special thanks to Iphigene for creating this visually-arresting widget!
Super special thanks to Iphigene for creating this visually-arresting widget!

Inspired by Carrie Gelson‘s post on House Hunting Through History, I thought about the various ‘homes’ that we have featured here in GatheringBooks over the years. While only three of the books here directly deal with war and conflict, each story shows how these varied structures – made of wood, stone, metal, glass – are places of refuge, one and all – perfect for our current reading theme as we explore “Tales of War and Poetry, Refuge & Peace.”

IMG_5120The House

Written by: J. Patrick Lewis Illustrated by: Roberto Innocenti
Published by: Creative Editions, Mankato, 2009
Borrowed from the Jurong West public Library. Book photos taken by me.

This book found me two years ago and it found me again several weeks back at the library. The collaboration between J. Patrick Lewis and Roberto Innocenti is a perfect marriage of word and image.

In this story, it is this ancient and sturdy house that speaks in a lyrical voice, in perfect quatrain no less. The Foreword, however, is in narrative format, giving you a glimpse of what you can find within the pages:

The lintel above my door reads 1656, a plague year, the year of my construction. I was built of stone and wood, but with the passage of time, my windows came to see, my eaves to hear. I saw families grow and trees fall. I heard laughter and guns. I came to know storms, hammers and saws, and, finally, desertion. Then, one day, children ventured beneath my shadow seeking mushrooms and chestnuts, and I was given new life at the dawn of a modern age. This is my story, from my old hill, of the twentieth century. – The House, 2009


And so the story begins as far back as the 1900s, when life was breathed back into this edifice: The House of twenty thousand tales. The format of the picturebook is unique in the sense that a narrative begins with a  particular year and a quatrain that describes what life was like during that period, followed by intricately-drawn full-spread pages that would make any reader gasp out loud (see below):



As time passes by, the house heaves and grunts its story in verse, as it witnesses grapevines and growth, blissful weddings and joyous gatherings, and the inevitable changing of the seasons with celebrated births and untimely deaths.


The years 1942-1944 mark exhaustion and despair, flames and desolation as the house stands as a “final refuge of the poor, who suffer but in suffering endure.”


These lines speak to me like no other:

Whose war is this that lasts a thousand suns?
Relief born of fatigue describes the mood
Of partisan and peasant gratitude
For valor and a respite from the guns.


The eaves of this house hum whispered prayers for people who come under its roofs, seeking solace. Its windows weep eventually in decay and despair as its inhabitants move on and find other fields of sanctuary. Whether the house will survive at present time, I shall leave for you to discover.

The Last ResortIMG_5128

Written byJ. Patrick Lewis Illustrated by: Roberto Innocenti
Published byCreative Editions, 2002
Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

I bought this book during the Library Warehouse Sale in 2012. I dug it up from my bookshelves for this special feature and I am glad to discover its secrets as I read through the pages.

An artist is shown in his desk, with unused brushes and wasted colours, his face forlorn. He claims to have lost his “inward eye” quoting from the poet Wordsworth. And so, packing just the barest essentials, he has set out on a journey. Surprisingly, it seemed that his red Renault knew exactly the way as he was led from a busy avenue to a deserted path:


… the car suddenly turned down a lane as long as loneliness, past a cliff beyond forgetting, through a spider-lightning night. At last the Renault sputtered to a stop at the foot of a most remarkable seaside hotel.


While not written in verse, it has J. Patrick Lewis’ trademark lilting words that sing, and yes Innocenti’s glorious art:


Not knowing exactly where he is, he asked a young lad at the door about this strange place, and he replied so strangely, I thought it deserves to be shared here:

Evenin’ stranger. Parrot’s got you booked in
Where Answers dance with Question marks so
you can find the cure.



Your room’s a-waitin’ for you, sir. Leave every-
thin’ behind.
This here’s The Last Resort for folks who’ve 
lost a piece of mind.


Apparently, this place is a refuge for artists who have lost their inner eye, one-legged pilgrims in search of lost treasures, a young boy who speaks in verse and fishes messages from the sea, a sickly young woman dressed all in white with a scaly secret, and a bizarre greyish man who vowed to spend his time writing extraordinary letters.

The guests at The Last Resort
The guests at The Last Resort

While each one has their individual stories wrapped in silence, their narratives are soon found to be interwoven, as more visitors find their way into this strange seaside refuge – with a tall drifter who ambled along armed with a map, a Police Inspector who announced to everyone that they are all “under suspicion” of what – he simply cannot say, a crashing biplane with an unharmed aviator, and a gentleman who prefers “the government of air” as he seeks his hero, the windmill knight – among other interesting characters.


The reader is shown but a glimpse of the inhabitants’ “odd bingdingles” – little hints that would allow one to figure out that each one is a literary character who has found his or her way into this Last Resort. From Huck Finn to Long John Silver, there are also famous people who have wandered in through the doors such as Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Emily Dickinson and this famous white whale which I am sure most of you would be able to recognize.


Whether this motley assemblage find what their hearts are yearning for,  I shall leave for you to discover. This is a dream of a book, a beauty to behold, with a meandering tale that hopefully finds its way to you.

The+Staircase+CatThe Staircase Cat

Written by: Colin Thompson Illustrations by: Anna Pignataro
Published by: Hodder Headline Australia, 1998
Borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

I have done a review of this book previously, and I shall just quote from what I have written four years ago. This book is perfect for our current reading theme.

The story begins with a line that would capture any child’s (or adult’s) fancy: “There were ghosts in the house.” The story talks about a building, once teeming with life, now abandoned by its inhabitants – during the time of war.

While there were occasional visitors who lodge in the building (tramps as Colin Thompson call them), they were made aware of a strange presence in the house, ghosts moving in and out of the deserted rooms because “there was no peace for them among the fallen plaster and broken glass.” It speaks of a town, once filled with music and laughter, transformed to a warehouse of rats (like the Pied Piper himself played his dirge around town), while the Staircase Cat moons about in the windowsill, wondering when his masters/humans would come for him.


Strangely enough, the entire town was revived after the bombing stopped and the soldiers left. Flecks of green started to appear in the derelict streets, roofs were rebuilt, walls repainted, music once again soaked through the walls of houses slowly being rebuilt. Yet, the Staircase Cat remains alone in this abandoned building while there is growing life all around him. Still, he waits patiently, as if the world itself has stood still for him, and time suspended in the spirit-filled dusty building.

“For the first time in his life he felt lonely. He had forgotten the comfort of sitting by a fire, of sitting in someone’s lap and being stroked. He had even forgotten his name and realised that there was probably no one left who knew what it was.”


24606_1382167627121_2001822_nThen it all changed one day, when the caretaker’s daughter revisited her old hometown years and years after the war. The cat knew her as a little girl in that encapsulated time and space. This time around, she was a grown woman who remembered Oskar the cat and was amazed at the fact that their kitty cat has survived after all those years.


What amazes me about Colin Thompson is that he skilfully conveys the ravages of something as devastating as war in such a subtle, yet immensely powerful way. He speaks simply and guilelessly about war through the eyes of a cat in a children’s book. How magically surreal can you possibly get.

*** I will be featuring more of Colin Thompson’s beautiful picturebooks and his collaboration with Save the Children for our Saturday Reads in the next few weeks. You may also want to check out another Colin Thompson picturebook about home:

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 11.49.39 pm

I used this one in my multicultural children’s literature class last semester. Beautiful book. Colin Thompson is a genius. I got this image above from his website.

The House that Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood in ChinaDSC_1476

Written and Illustrated by: Ed Young
Published by: Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2011.
Borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

Similar with The Staircase Cat, I featured this book back in 2012. However, as we are doing a war and refuge mini-reading-theme here, I will be citing bits and pieces from my previous review of this book:

Enclosed Joys and Wide Open Spaces. Ed Young’s father was an Engineer. Concerned with his family’s well-being during the time of war in Shanghai in the 1930s – he built a huge edifice in what was considered the safest part of Shanghai – where the embassies were. Since the place was staggeringly expensive, Ed Young’s father made a bargain with the landowner:

… he offered to build a big brick house on it, with courtyards, gardens, a swimming pool, and let the landowner have it all – after we had lived there for twenty years. The owner agreed.


While the book opened with the threat of war and the crows covering the sky with blackness, this is a book that celebrated the other side of war – a more joyful story lying behind this gated, enclosed bubble of space that Baba built for his loved ones.

Similar to Allen Say’s mention of war in Japan in his own memoir Drawing From Memorythe war is not the central focus in the narrative. It remains a looming threat in the background, yes, but it seems more like a bad dream, more surreal and disembodied – felt through the lack of food in the house, the sound of fighter planes overhead in a distant sky, the growing number of people in their home:

Only toward the very end of the war did we hear bombs. First we’d hear the long warning siren that meant enemy planes had been sighted. Then came the quick, shrill blasts signaling that bombing was about to begin.


Glorious artwork by Ed Young
Glorious artwork by Ed Young
We gathered in the hallway, where the dinner bell was – the safest part of the house, Baba said. There were no windows there, so we could keep a light on. When everyone was settled comfortably, the stories began. Baba told of a woman kung fu warrior with bound feet. She was chasing an enemy, who was getting away until his shadow from the slanting moonlight fell in her path. She kicked his shadow so hard that she killed the poor bandit. I pictured her, not the bombs outside, which didn’t frighten me anyway. I knew nothing could happen to us within those walls, in the house Baba built.


Click here to be taken to the rest of my review.


Written byAnne Shelby Illustrations by: Wendy Anderson Halperin
Published by: A Richard Jackson Book, 1995
Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

Very similar to Roberto innocenti’s The House which spans six decades, this story is two hundred years long. With gentle storytelling that resembles a lullaby, and beautiful muted colours that give comfort to the eye, a grandmother tells the story of their homeplace to her young, wide-eyed, sunkissed-haired grand-daughter. Going back to the time of great-great-great-great-grandpa, Grandma tells her story of a time long gone when people were still free to clear lands and build sturdy shelters from tree logs they have axed and stones they have gathered using nothing but their hands and a few tools.


With a Laura Ingalls Wilder feel to the story, the reader is privileged to witness babies growing and becoming parents themselves. This is paralleled by the growth of the farm, the crops, the harvest, and the house.


There is much to savor here and discover, each tiny little picture filled with such loving detail that is brimming with years of togetherness: ripened tomatoes planted in one’s backyard, tree houses built by thoughtful and strong hands, and the warm smells of the kitchen filled with shiny jars of peaches. The reader does not only see the family grow, but the entire community as well, with the appearance of the post office, drug store, toy shops, and the like over the years. A beautiful book that showcases how one’s roots can indelibly define one’s being.

In My BackyardIMG_5142

Written by: Nette Hilton Illustrated by: Anne Spudvilas
Published byLothian Books, 2001
Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

This book is an ode to city life against a purple sky: the dizzying lights, and the varied angles, colours, alleyways that celebrate this cityscape:

In my backyard there are mountains and metal streams
and a jungle of mechanical sounds…
purring, whooshing, clanking, clattering.

For those who live in the city, one could easily imagine how the sound of an airplane whizzing past the blue skies is like, and the feel of gnarled metal fences…


… and the sound of children screaming in the streets. I also love how this city is filled with diverse kids playing together, claiming this space as their own, their tribe’s:


As the children claim:

We run through brick-faced canyons
and crevices of fences
spiked with spears.
To our houses.



My house with mountains and night-time firelights
of a thousand stars in a million colours,
flashing, blinking, sending messages.


In a few lines, Nette Hilton captured in a simple yet richly layered narrative what makes a place one’s home.

IMG_5157Way Home

Written by: Libby Hathorn Illustrated by: Gregory Rogers
Published by: Andersen Press, 1994
Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

This is one of the most powerful picture books I have ever read, and which I am privileged to own. I found this during the Library Warehouse Sale as well back in 2012. Unlike the rootedness found in the previous picture book, this is a story of a young boy named Shane who lives in the streets.

One evening, Shane finds a wild snarling cat on top of a metal fence: all fierceness and distrust with hissing eyes. For some reason, Shane takes it upon himself to reach out and grab the cat, giving him safety and warmth in the folds of his disheveled, tattered zippered sweatshirt.


The scene below was particularly riveting for me:


‘Take a look at that Fatcat will you? I’m telling you that cat’s a loser. Eats fancy mince, no kidding. Heaps of it. Right there at the window. Disgusting. And get that collar. What a joke!’
‘C’mon, Mycat, let’s shove off.’


This picturebook makes you think, makes you stop and really look, makes you feel despite yourself. Written in the vernacular, it has a strength borne of vulnerability, of courage despite snarling monster dogs, of finding one’s “way home” through shadowy alleys lined with weeks of trash and junk. This is a book that begs to be read and re-read to figure out the symbols in the images, how the jagged lines and blackness make the reader sit back to find light within, and to marvel at a young boy’s desire to provide a haven of warmth to a helpless creature despite the fact that he has virtually none to give.


In the Dedication Page, the author Libby Hathorn says that this book is for “the largely unsung, mostly unseen workers for young people in need.” While practically all the picturebooks I shared above demonstrate the unspoken and taken-for-granted privilege that most people in the world have with their four walls, ancestral homes, and sturdy shelters that stand the test of time, Way Home redefines what it means to seek and find refuge. This is a good picturebook to pair with Eve Bunting and Ronald Himler’s Fly Away Home.

Click on the image to be taken to my review of the book.
Click on the image to be taken to my review of the book.

Other Books on Home and Refuge you might want to check out…


Click on the image to be taken to my review of the book
Click on the image to be taken to my review of the book
Click on the image to be taken to my review of the book.
Click on the image to be taken to my review of the book.
Click on the image to be taken to my review of the books.
Click on the image to be taken to my review of the books.

Currently Reading…

I have finished reading Ying Chang Compestine’s Revolution is not a Dinner Party last week and am now finishing A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts: A Collection of Deliciously Frightening Tales.


This is in preparation for my interview with the author this Wednesday evening (9 July) at The Arts House. If you’re in Singapore, do come and join us. Click here to register.

Ying Chang Compestine EDM

My daughter and I have just finished reading Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue last night – our read-aloud that took us months to finish.


We will be reading aloud Flora & Ulysses by Kate Dicamillo next. We will begin tonight, and I can’t wait. I’m just hoping that it won’t take us the entire summer to finish reading it together.


I will also waiting for a silent moment to read this delicious novel which I just bought over the weekend: The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman and illustrations by Eddie Campbell.


Then hopefully, I get back to The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt which I haven’t had time to read last week. And to think I am very nearly done with it too. I guess part of me does not want to leave the world that she created. There is something about Theo. I don’t know how I feel about him. But what I do know is that I don’t want to leave his world yet. And part of me does not want to find out what happens next. Especially now that Boris is back in his life.




Reading Challenge Update: 134, 135, 136 [The Last Resort, Homeplace, In My Backyard – all the rest are re-reads](25)

16 comments on “[Monday Reading] Places of Refuge, Songs of Home, War and Poetry

  1. Wow that is a lot of gorgeous books! The House book looks amazing and World Of Food


  2. I can’t even know how you manage to find such beautifully illustrated books! Thanks for including pictures of the pages. They are a real nice touch!


  3. You’ve curated a remarkable set of books here, Myra. Way Home does sound like a book to own, savor and share with our students time and time again. It presents a perspective we need to expose our kids to, and examine ourselves. I’ll be interested in your thoughts about The Goldfinch, too – my own response was rather mixed.


  4. You always have the most interesting books Myra! The House and The Last Resort look very interesting to me. Have a great reading week!


  5. I have to agree with Earl and Tara on the amazing selection of books you have here, and so often do! I saw many familiar ones ()

    I have to agree with Earl and Tara on the amazing selection of books you have here, and so often do! I saw many familiar ones (A World of Food, The Little House, Flora & Ulysses)

    How to Cook Children certainly sounds, um… “interesting” lol

    And I swore to myself I was going to stop ordering books from the library that I see on blogs like yours ‘cause I end up with piles that never end and I can’t catch up! THEN I see books like The House and Homeplace and desperately wish I could read EVERY book ever written by Neil Gaiman! Of course, like everyone else—there’s simply not enough hours in a day, speaking of which…

    As an aside, though you probably wouldn’t notice, I’m mentioning that I’m trying to make a conscious decision on cutting back for a while on how much time I spend on reading/commenting on blogs I love and follow, ’cause if I don’t, my own blogs will never be launched *sigh* I’m not disappearing…just fading for a bit with occasional apparitional appearances. I figure if I actually TELL people I’m doing this—I actually WILL! lol


    • Myra, I HAD to pop back in to thank you. After this post, I immediately ordered The Last Resort from my library. Just this morning I took the time to read it and OH, how I love it! The artwork, in my opinion, is aMAzing! And the story is so clever and beautifully written. I’m SO glad to be aware of this book and it’s on my B&N wish list now! 😀


      • Hi there Donna! I’m really very happy that The Last Resort has found you. Yes, it’s a very clever book and so beautifully illustrated and gorgeously written. 🙂


  6. Such a beautiful list, Myra. I will work my way through it. I have Homeplace & The House That Baba Built, so good. I cannot find The Staircase Cat, even on Amazon, will keep trying to see if I can order it. It looks gorgeous. Thank you for the gathering of these wonderful books!


  7. The illustrations in the books are so colorful. I enjoyed looking at each one. I especially like The Staircase Cat. I’m glad Oskar found someone who remembered his name.


  8. Thank you, thank you for this amazing list of books. I’ve got some of these in the library, but I’ve added a few to my wish list. I love anything by Roberto Innocenti. I read Revolution is Not a Dinner party last summer along with Chu Ju’s House by Gloria Whelan. Both deal with the same time period in China. Chu Ju’s father is one of the barefoot doctors referred to in Revolution. Thank you again. I love your posts.


  9. What a stunning collection I love fly Away Home. Such a powerful title. I am off to make dinner but will then return to this list and start requesting at my public library. Thank you so much for sharing!


  10. I also loved the house theme of Carrie’s post and have enjoyed seeing your additions. What a great collection, Myra! I really loved seeing the diverse illustration styles in these books – from the soft watercolors of Staircase Cat to the dark shadows of The Way Home. I love the concept of Window by Jeannie Baker – and the 3D effect of her illustrations. Two other books that I use for a “home” theme are “All the Places to Love” by Patricia McLachlan and “When I Was Young in the Mountains” by Cynthia Rylant. Which has now got me thinking about the difference between books about “Houses” and books about “Home”. As always, thanks for the books and for inspiring my thinking! Have a great week, Myra!


  11. Pingback: [Saturday Reads] My Top Forty (or so) Picturebooks and Graphic Novels (Part 3 of 3) – Gathering Books

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