Still, the cliché holds: Just looking great from the outside doesn't mean what's inside is going to live up to that promise. Sometimes the writing or even the overall concept is dull or lackluster, and even the most brilliant illustrations can't overcome that. And then there are what I've come to think of as "picture books for parents"—children's books that we find irresistible but that don't speak to our children in the slightest. (I know there are a few of these gathering dust as de facto bookends on our shelves.)
The worst of these kinds of books is that once you've encountered a couple, they make you doubt your own judgment: If it's this appealing to me, you think, does that mean it's going to bore my three-year-old silly? It was with such worries that I started reading a book I had gotten very excited about—House Held Up by Trees, by Ted Kooser and illustrated by Jon Klassen—to my younger son.
On the one hand, Kooser is a Pulitzer Prize–winning former U.S. poet laureate, and Klassen is responsible for one of the very, very best picture books of the last few years, the delightful best seller I Want My Hat Back. And this book certainly passed the cover test with flying colors, thanks to Klassen's evocative, leafy rendition of the titular structure on it. On the other, well, Kooser is a Pulitzer Prize–winning former U.S. poet laureate, and this is a children's picture book, and those sorts of factors do sometimes combine to create bookends.
So for the moment, I can trust my cover judgment again. House Held Up by Trees looks, at first glance, like a special book, maybe an instant classic. And, in fact, I think that's just what it is.
[Cover image courtesy of Candlewick Press]