Thursday, December 20, 2018

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Heavenly Tenants by William Maxwell, illustrated by Ilonka Karasz (1946)

When the Marvell family goes on vacation in this 1947 Newbery Honor book, they think they are leaving their home in the care of their hired man, August. When August falls ill, however, the constellations in the sky come down to take over the household chores in his stead. When the family returns, they find some unusual signs that indicate who has really been looking after their home.

The plot of this book is not just far-fetched, it's also not that interesting. But you can tell me almost any story you want if you're going to illustrate it with the beautiful pictures that appear in this book. Ilonka Karasz's pictures of the night sky filled with constellations and of the Marvell family's home glowing with starlight from within are among the most intricate illustrations I have ever seen in a children's book. (The book is online - click and you'll see what I mean. Just beautiful!) I would have sooner guessed that book would have received a Caldecott Honor than Newbery recognition! The writing isn't memorable, but those pictures really make an impression, and they certainly wouldn't have been out of place amidst the five honor books chosen by the 1947 Caldecott committee.

This book might appeal to the child who has a strong interest in astronomy and learning about the constellations. I'm considering reading it to my five-year-old, perhaps the next time we plan to visit the planetarium. But it isn't a book with a lot of meat to it, or even a clear point, and I can imagine my younger self becoming frustrated with it, even if the subject matter appealed to me initially. I definitely recommend spending some time looking at the pictures because they are just so well-done, but if you don't read the whole story, I can't say you'll be missing much.

No comments:

Post a Comment