Deborah Freedman’s book This House, Once speaks to that human desire to know how stuff is made. In spirit, it’s a lot like the wonderful book Where Did My Clothes Come From? by Chris Butterworth. But that books revels in the intricate details of cloth- and clothes-making, while This House, Once is atmospheric and poetic.
The book begins with spreads alternating between stark drawings of architectural elements and wordless illustrations, showing the natural elements that went into making that piece of the house. “This door was once a colossal oak tree about three hugs around and as high as the blue,” a spread accompanied by a small drawing of a door, is followed by a spread showing a huge oak tree piercing clouds.
The book has a dream-like, fantastical quality. And houses really are fantastical when you think about it! We stand inside and look outside through plates of sand, melted by fire! But maybe the best word to describe the book is “cozy.” In the illustrations, a cozy gray cat follows us through our exploration of the parts of the house, wordlessly ending up curled asleep.
I wished the back matter had more information about, for example, the transformation of slate into shingles or mud into bricks, but it was very brief, too, and merely evocative. It ends, though, with telling questions: “Where do you live? What was your home, once?” It is perhaps not a book that only an architect could have written (though Freedman did used to be an architect!), but it is definitely a book by a poet.
This House, Once, by Deborah Freedman. Atheneum: 2017.