Writer: Katrina Germein
Illustrator: Anthea Stead
Published by: Walker Books, 2013
Karen’s Plot Summary: An adventurous little girl walks along a long looping street wondering who lives in each house, until she arrives at her own house at the very end of the street.
Character: The little girl is nameless in the story and she acts as a guide for the reader. It’s like she’s taking the reader by the hand and walking side-by-side with them down the street, pondering aloud who is inside and asking the reading who they think is inside each house. Unlike many other picture books, the character doesn’t experience a major change throughout the text. Instead of an emotional or metaphorical journey, this girl is on a physical journey down the street. The problem she encounters is a gentle one: who could possibly be inside each house? She invites the reader to answer the question before turning the page, which creates a high level of audience engagement for little people. It’s a gentle story arc for our character, but it works.
Story arc & pacing: SOMEBODY’S HOUSE is a bit different to many of the picture books on the market in that the tension is not so much built by problems or events, but by the literal journey of the girl down the street. There is no discernible change throughout the text that indicates a rising tension, but the visual impact of moving further and further towards the end of the street creates more than enough tension to pull the story along.
Each page turn is compelling as the reader wonders who is inside the house (‘Who do YOU think is inside?’) and when we reach the house ‘at the end of the street’, there is a delicious yet gentle tension about knowing it’s the very last house on the street.
BEGINNING: Spread 1 (Characters and the problem are introduced/developed.)
A gentle beginning for a gentle book. The text and illustration clearly and succinctly tells us that the story is set in a single street, and the little girl is wondering who she might meet along her walk.
TURNING POINT: Spread 1 (Problem is clearly identified; working on a solution)
The Turning Point is achieved in Spread 1 through the implication that the little girl is about to wander down the entire street. She wants to know who is inside each house and is about to find out.
MIDDLE: Spreads 2-10 (Various attempts are made to solve the problem)
As the little girl walks down the street, she wonders about who is inside each house. Whether she meets the inhabitants of the houses in reality or in her imagination is not clarified, but we do know she invites the reader to wonder who is in each house, then she suggests a ‘maybe’ solution.
CLIMAX: Spread 11 (Trouble at its worst)
In keeping with the tone of the book, this is a nuanced climax. We are at the house ‘at the end of the street’ and know there’s no further to go. The girl suggests that maybe there’s a mummy inside that house waiting for someone to come home for tea. Then, in a gorgeous variation on the repetitive question of ‘Who do YOU think is inside?’, on Spread 11 the girl says, ‘I know who lives in that house…’ Then tension has built so gently throughout that it’s almost surprising just how much you want to turn the page and find out the answer.
END: Spread 12 (A resolution to the problem.)
The simple, two-word ending – ‘It’s me!’ – is perfect. After her adventurous wander from the top of the street to the bottom, she is safe back in her own home and in the loving arms of her mum. Cue all the warm fuzzies!
CODA: (A lovely final image or reversal)
Language: Written as a rhyming text, there is a gorgeous lilt to the story and it’s perfect for reading aloud. The words are simple but well chosen and there’s some great patterns that the reader becomes accustomed to and looks for. Each house is described with a different double-barrelled adjective such as ‘little red house’ or ‘shady green house’ and the attention to detail to the rhyme scheme means that the text appears effortless, even though from a writer’s perspective I know it’s not!
Illustrations: The illustrations in SOMEBODY’S HOUSE are totally captivating. Bright, colourful and playful, there’s lots to see on each page but the reader’s eye is given a rest throughout the careful placement of pale colours in the background and some sparser layouts throughout. There are a variety of perspectives from close up to bird’s eye view, which are used at just the right moments. There’s an intimacy in being so close to the action whenever we are taken inside each of the houses. I particularly loved the use of a tree branch and a peacock’s body to frame a couple of the pages. There is lots of movement and whimsy in the illustrations with heaps of hidden gems to search for, like dogs reading in trees and a magpie watching television. I think the cover is one of the most attractive I’ve seen in a long time and it’s a book that I pick up time and time again, just to appreciate its beauty.
Interplay between text and illustrations: The illustrations bring the simple, uncluttered text to life. Through the careful placement of the main character in the page where the pondering occurs, we see a magical world through the eyes of a child and it really is beautiful. The text sets the story up, but the illustrations turn it into something else, an almost Alice-in-Wonderland experience. A horse in high heels, a dog standing on its hind legs looking out to sea, and a sheep knitting a woolen scarf are just some of the delights that add a playfulness to the story. I love the simplicity of the writing and the complexity of the illustrations. It really does work beautifully.
Design and layout: The font choice for the text is quite playful and the colour of each house is highlighted in a larger font. Likewise, the ‘you’ in the question to the reader – ‘Who do YOU think is inside?’ – is also larger. This subtle emphasis is fantastic as it grounds the reader in the illustrations (which house are we looking at? Oh, that’s right – the blue one!) while inviting them into the story.
Lessons for my writing:
– stories don’t have to be complicated. Sometimes simple is best.
– if I’m going to write in rhyme, I’d better get it absolutely perfect
– don’t always stick to the usual story arc of character, problem, bigger problem, biggest problem, climax, resolution. There are variations on this that can work just as well.
– with the right illustrator, incredible depth can be added to simple, authentic text where each word has earnt its place.
Crunching the numbers: I’ve decided to start compiling some graphs on the picture books I deconstruct so I can see the patterns, trends, similarities and differences in word count, structure and pacing. If your eyes are glazing over, jump down to my final thought below the graphs.
Total Word Count Graph: I think it’s helpful to get a feel for the word counts of good picture books and am interested in just how much variation there is across the spectrum.
Word Count by Spread: Sometimes it’s helpful to see where the most words are used in the book.
Pacing Graph: This one is where I attempt to show the pacing of the novel from the beginning, through to the climax and onto the end. The difference between WIBBLY WOBBLY STREET and SOMEBODY’S HOUSE is obvious in the graph.
Structural Elements Graph: This one is a little trickier to explain, but essentially I’m looking at the 14 or so double-page spreads of picture books and assigning each spread one of the following categories: beginning, middle, climax, end or coda. Then I’m compiling the results as I go to work out what is the most common structural element to be on a particular spread. This can be really helpful when I’m writing and assist with the pacing of my own stories.
The way to interpret this graph is to look at each spread and see whether there is only one coloured column – which means all the data entered so far is the same – or if there are two coloured columns – which means there are differences in the data. For example, the beginning occurs for all the books thus far on Spread 1 (as you would hope!), but in Spread 10, the books in the sample are split evenly between that spread being a middle page or a climax page. As I add more books and collate more data, trends should start to emerge.
Karen’s final thought: I really love SOMEBODY’S HOUSE. Although it’s the bright colour palette and movement in the illustrations that grab me initially, once I open the book and start reading I can’t help but read aloud. It’s such a well produced book on all levels.