Caldecott Corner: The House in the Night by Beth Krommes, 2009 Award Winner

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This year’s winner of the Caldecott Medal is The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes. When I asked the librarian to help me locate it (it was misshelved), she told me she didn’t like it; its illustrations were too dark. I wasn’t sure, then, what I’d think of The House in the Night. But I enjoyed reading the story of a bedtime story, and the black, white, and gold scratchboard illustrations were appropriate for the subject.

In a very simple manner, Swanson tells the story of a little house and a book, waiting on a bed. In the book is the story of a bird flying in the night with the sun reflecting off the moon. Then the story that we are reading steps back out again and we look at the house in the night, with the little girl going to bed.

While the story is simple and has few words, the illustrations are detailed and intricate. I tried my hand at scratchboard when I took an art class in college: it’s hard. And yet each page is beautifully illustrated, with just a touch of gold color. I can’t explain how comforting the book was to read and examine: a perfect bedtime story that relaxes.

But I wonder about the librarian’s comment. The illustrations are black, white and gold, with black the main color. I thought they were beautiful, but the librarian’s comment might have merit. See sample pages from the book via Amazon’s Look Inside! option here.

In this day of full-color illustrated children’s books, is a three-color (mostly black) picture book too “dark”? What are children drawn to in illustration?

My son is too young to tell me what he thinks. But I’d love to know what you (or your children) thought of The House in the Night.

If you have reviewed The House in the Night on your site, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.

Reviewed on February 19, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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  1. I haven’t read The House in the Night yet, but I have read a similar book called The Black Book of Colors. Most of the book is black with white lettering and braille. The illustrations were black also, so you had to tilt the book to see them, but you could feel them. I read it to my children and they loved it. The book was different but that didn’t take away the value of it for them.

  2. I’ve got this review in draft and hope to publish it this next month (just not enough days in the month!). Overall, I liked it but I didn’t even think about reading it to my three year old. Maybe I think it wouldn’t hold his interest as a little older child would. My kids love bright, bold, and fun illustrations.

  3. My kids haven’t read this (and are all probably too old for it now), but I love the illustrations that the link you gave has. I love scratchboard artwork! I don’t think it’s too dark. I think these days people tend to think kids can’t handle anything.

  4. Well they are dark and it’s not entirely eye-catching but it’s very intricate and I think the technique is neat. Not too sure if a child would pick this over say Dr. Seuss though.

  5. Vassilly, That sounds like a really interesting one; how old are/were you children when you read it with them?

    Natasha, I read it to my son, but he doesn’t pay attention to any book unless I let him hold it and turn the pages his way….this was a brand new library book so I did the holding ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Amanda, I love scratchboard art too! That’s the whole book and I like it!

    Ladytink, that’s the question: would a child notice it? I personally think it is eye-catching — but I’m not the target audience…

  6. In response to Ladytink specifically, but other comments as well, would a child choose rice and beans over sugar cookies?
    Doctor Seuss is wonderful stuff, as are bright colors, but there is space as well for the wonderful artwork in this book. Three year olds might not respond to it like they would to a sugar cookie, and I wouldn’t expect that on first reading. But with repeated exposure to such artwork, they begin to “get it” and enjoy it, just like anything else.

  7. jreich, that’s a really good point: thanks for sharing. Our kids need a bit of everything in their “literary” diet. I know I’d go crazy with only Dr. Seuss (much as I enjoy them!).

  8. I think this a marvelous book because the narrative and the art work complement each other. The yellow touches make the B&W art work more dramatic. I remember delighting “Goodnight, Goodnight, by Eve Rice and wondering how far another artist would go. She has arrived. She brings a splendid feeling of old Europe art (lythography by Dore) with a kick of new world. Monique

  9. I LOVE “The House in the Night”! My four-year-old loves it, as well. He wants me to read it to him every night. I think the scratchboard method used is amazing, especially for younger children. The pictures may not be “realistic” and they may be “dark”, but it IS called “The House in the NIGHT”. Because it is dark at night, I believe the pictures suit the story very well. It’s very soothing and comforting to my little boy at night.

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