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Little Houses

Book Review

“Are the empty shells full of ghosts?!” asked my niece EJ, surprised when a living creature poked its eyes out of its spiraled, pink-walled house, I imagine, to see why on earth it was looking up at the May afternoon sky instead of its sandy neighborhood beneath the waves of the Gulf of Mexico. EJ tossed the shell back into its home under the choppy waters. “All the shells I’ve found have been empty. I wasn’t expecting to find anything living.” As EJ shook her head, the salty droplets from her hair and her surprise floated away. She smiled, jumped another rolling wave, and dove back down, continuing our shelling expedition, in search of empty shells, ones filled with ghosts and memories, to take home as tokens of our vacation.

ID: Little Houses book with shells around it. Photo Credit: Amanda Rzicznek

Little Houses by the collaborative couple Kevin Henkes (writer) and Laura Dronzek (illustrator), transported me back to Sanibel Island, back to that day, that memory when EJ experienced the amazement of finding the living beyond land, beneath the rough water. Henkes and Dronzek perfectly capture that shocking joy of discovering life when you least expect it and the immediate reaction of wonder and inquiry. Alliteration and rhythm bring alive Henkes’ poetic text beautifully; for example, “shells are little houses”, “Is its ghost still inside the curved walls?”, and “I’d like to know…if a snowy egret has ever seen snow.”

Wonderfully complimenting textual themes of inquiry, imagination, and life cycles, Dronzek’s amazing acrylic art captures the vibrant yet calming ocean setting with a refreshing tropical palette. The wondrous movement she embodies in the waves and the life below as well as the wind wisping the clouds and the characters’ hair kindly guides pre-kindergarten through second grade eyes around the page and toward graceful page turns. Whimsical and funny yet pensive and meditative, Little Houses is a quietly powerful picture book to read during a trip to the beach or as a conservation conversation starter in early education classrooms.

For incorporating Ocean Literacy principles in the classroom or at home, Little Houses welcomes closer examination of at least 3 of the principles:

1. Principle #5: The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.

2. Principle #6: The ocean and humans are inextricably linked.

3. Principle #7: The ocean is largely unexplored.

ID: Little Houses book with plate of cookies next to it. Photo Credit: Amanda Rzicznek

If reading, studying, teaching, and discussing makes your tummy rumble like mine, I find baked treats to be the natural companion to all things youth literature. Usually a specific recipe that pairs well with the communities or themes of a book will pop up in my mind as I digest the said book. With Little Houses, I found myself craving cookie columnist Jesse Szewczyk’s Cilantro-Lime Sugar Cookies, a surprising flavor profile for a cookie that is absolutely reminiscent of summer on the beach. Szewczyk’s recipe can be found in his outstanding cookie-book The New Classics on page 160, and if gluten restrictions are part of your home like ours, King Arthur’s Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Mix works well as a flour substitute in his recipe. I truly hope you find this pairing of Cilantro-Lime Sugar Cookies with Little Houses absolutely beachy-keen.

About The Book Reviewer

Amanda Rzicznek teaches first-year writing, Picture Book Workshop, and Graphic Novel Workshop at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Her creative work appears in This Quarantine Life: A COVID-19 Era Comics Anthology, Hotel Amerika, NOON: journal of the short poem, Cream City Review, and the Toledo Museum of Art among other literary spaces. Every weekend, with her sous chef Hulky, a 90-lb black lab, she bakes something gluten-free and delicious for her family. She’s a firm believer in yoga and youth literature, and a lover of comics, cookies, and cake. Find her Breakfast and A Book Reviews on Instagram at @starsseefish


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