Henry David's House
Henry David Thoreau, author
Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts, in 1817. He attended Harvard College and then worked as a teacher, tutor, pencil maker, and land surveyor. In 1845 he built his famous cabin and nine years later published Walden, a book based on his journal that has influenced generations of poets, naturalists, political activists, and philosophers.
Read more about Henry David Thoreau.
Steven Schnur, editor
Steven Schnur is the author of several books for adults and children, including Summer: An Alphabet Acrostic and Spring Thaw, the award-winning middle-grade novel The Shadow Children, and two volumes of essays. He teaches literature and creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and is the literary editor of Reform Judaism magazine.
Read more about Steven Schnur.
Peter Fiore, illustrator
Peter Fiore has illustrated many books for children, including Dear Willie Rudd (Simon & Schuster) and The Boston Tea Party (Holiday House). He has taught art at the Pratt Institute and Syracuse University, and currently teaches at the New York School of Visual Arts. Peter lives in Pennsylvania.
Read more about Peter Fiore.
- NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People
- John Burroughs List of Nature Books for Young Readers
"Near the end of March I borrowed an ax and went down tot he woods near Walden Pond. . . ." In brief, easy-reading passages chosen by Schnur, Thoreau describes the construction of his famous cottage, lists the possessions he filled it with, and tallies sights an d sounds of the changing seasons, concluding, "We can never have enough of nature." Fiore's dappled, impressionistic woodland scenes make the sentiment easy to comprehend, though because his view is more often turned away from the actual house than toward it, children will see less of the building than its setting. Libraries needing a follow-up to offer picture-book audiences intrigued by Johnson's Henry Hikes to Fitchburg or Henry Builds a Cabin will be well served by this pleasing, sun-dappled picture book for older children. Schnur's afterword provides context.
These excerpts from Thoreau's own journal piece together the events that formed the basis for Walden. Borrowing an axe from a friend, young Thoreau enters the woods and begins to cut down trees to build his house. Working alongside the sounds, sights, and smells of nature, he begins to form his philosophy for which he is famous: living life simply. As the seasons pass, Thoreau erects his house and begins to live in the woods full-time. He often sits quietly observing the birds as they flit from tree to tree with only the sounds of humanity to remind him of the passage of time. Whether it is picking ripe raspberries; sitting in a boat on the nearby pond; or entertaining other travelers in the woods, Thoreau is reminded, "W can never have enough of nature." Richly layered watercolor and oil painting depict the natural world in which Thoreau lived. From large landscape painting, to that of a single flower or chestnut, readers will enjoy the work's visual appeal as they read through the original text. Written for younger children, this might also assist older children or even adults as an introduction to one of the great philosophers in American history. An editor's note following the text gives more information about Thoreau's life and work.
Publishers WeeklySchnur (The Shadow Children) deftly plucks Thoreau's own words from Walden, and Fiore's (The Boston Tea Party) luminous watercolor and oil paintings affectingly evoke the simplicity and serenity of this man's existence on his beloved pond. As Thoreau chronicles a key chapter in his life—he repeatedly marvels at the sights and sounds of the natural world, constantly changing with each season. Schnur's chosen passages reveal Thoreau as a participant in rather than merely an observer of nature: "Sometimes a rambler in the wood was attracted by the sound of my axe, and we chatted pleasantly over the chips which I had made." Spare yet eloquent, Thoreau's words offer intriguing insight into his lifestyle as well as his philosophy. Describing the minimal contents of his house, he notes, "My furniture, part of which I made myself, consisted of a bed, a table, a desk, three chairs (one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society)." Fiore's striking panoramas underscore the beauty and the appeal of the locale that became Thoreau's home and inspiration, while the interiors and spot art emphasize the simplicity of his lifestyle.
One hundred fifty-seven years ago, the author began his celebrated experiment in Concord, Massachusetts. "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." The editor has selected passages in which Thoreau chronicles his labor of love: he borrowed an axe in March of 1845, and built his own cabin in the woods along Walden Pond.
Each double-page spread moves the reader ahead one month. Thoreau meticulously charts the progress of construction and lovingly details the glories of nature. The illustrator's full-page light-filled watercolor and oil paintings capture Thoreau's simple yet eloquent text. Int he lower right corner of each text page, Fiore marks the passage of the seasons with lush thumbnail images of nature (ducks upon an ice-laden pond, butterfly, water lily, apples, pumpkin, snow-covered berries). Readers may recognize Fiore's impressionistic style from his illustrations for The Boston Tea Party (Holiday House), and Dear Willie Rudd (Simon and Schuster).
Editor Schnur has also written picture books emphasizing nature, like Autumn: An Alphabet Acrostic (Clarion) and Spring Thaw (Viking), as well as provocative middle-year novels emphasizing human nature and moral conflicts like The Koufax Dilemma (William Morrow) and The Shadow Children (William Morrow).
Schnur thinks that younger children (ages five through eight) will be able to identify with the philosophy of Transcendentalist Thoreau. In the Editor's Note, he writes, "Thoreau forever changed the way we think about nature and our place in it." This beautiful book can easily prompt a discussion with children about the "trappings" of modern life. What would daily life be like without computers, cell phones, and televisions? What would it be like to build a cabin by yourself with only an axe and nails? What would it be like to live in the woods? What can humans learn from nature? The answers elicited will surprise adults and open rich avenues for exploration.
The Concord BookshopHard on the heels of author and illustrator D.B. Johnson's wonderful Henry Builds a Cabin, which features the ursine alter ego of Concord's own Henry David Thoreau, comes Henry David's House,/i>, a picture book with abridged text from Thoreau's writings and information about his life and Walden Pond today. The exquisite water color illustrations by Peter Fiore make this one to add to your library.
Henry David's House portrays another side of Thoreau: his deep, almost reverent love of the natural world. In this large, lush book Thoreau speaks for himself right from the start: "Near the end of March I borrowed an axe and went down to the woods by Walden Pond and began to cut down some tall white pines for timber." On the opposite page, we see a young man in a waist coat and longish hair, resolutely swinging an axe.
Each spread includes a brief, poetic paragraph or two from Walden, selected by Schnur. Thoreau lyrically describes not just the building process ("I dug my cellar down... to a fine sand where potatoes would not freeze in any winter") but also the small, telling details of his life in the woods ("I heard a stray goose... cackling... like the spirit of the fog"). Peter Fiore's impressionistic watercolor-and-oil illustrations effectively evoke the New England landscape while giving us a sense of Thoreau the man—drowsing in the summer sun, driving a team of horses, watching winter's first snowflakes. Especially eye-catching is a bird's-eye view of Thoreau boating in the autumn pond, surrounded by water lilies.
Still, in this book, it is the words that sing. Schnur has chosen carefully from Walden, leaving out the pedantic discourse and giving us instead Thoreau's keen, poetic descriptions of nature. When he speaks of "the moon traveling over the ribbed bottom" of the pond, the "whooping of the ice," or the red squirrel "coursing over the roof," we are there with him in this beloved solitude. The cabin itself is not the important thing, we realize by the end of the book. Thoreau is out here because, as he says in the final quote, "we can never have enough of Nature."
ISBN: 978-1-60734-261-8 PDF
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Page count: 32
9 x 12