a list of…five home-again-home-again-jiggity-jog stories about the pleasures of home

A view of the tranquil village where my daughter lives.

Well, I’m back!  I had a fantastic time visiting my daughter and toodling around Europe.  It was lovely to get a little acquainted with her new world there in Germany, and to soak up some of the beauty around her — the stunning Swiss alps, captivating medieval architecture, grandiose cathedrals and basilicas, smooth cappuccinos, gorgeous art…and meet many delightful people as well.  What a world we live in.  Home is lovely for coming-back-to, as well.  Familiarity has its own sweetness.  So, today, I have five books luxuriating in the dearness of home.

A Home for Bird, written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead

Vernon is a tenderhearted, likable toad who enjoys scavenging about for interesting things.  On one of these expeditions, he finds Bird.  Vernon immediately intuits that there’s something troubling Bird.  He asks if Bird is lost.  Bird makes no reply, but Vernon opts to take Bird under his…wing?..froggy arm?… anyway.

Vernon tries very hard to cheer Bird.  He introduces Bird to his friends and his neighborhood, but as Bird remains silent and apparently despondent, Vernon finally rigs a boat and sets out to help Bird find his way home.  It’s not easy.  The voyage demands perseverance and resourcefulness on Vernon’s part.  At last however, they meet with resounding success!  (Hint:  If you look carefully at the illustration on the title page, you’ll have a clue as to where they are heading all along.)

This is a thoroughly charming story, brimming with kindness, from the author who brought us A Sick Day for Amos McGee.  Philip Stead seems to have a knack for portraying friendship eloquently.  His illustrations, in merry yellows, watery blues, watermelon reds, similarly convey humble warmth, a down home welcome, kindness that soothes like a well-worn sweater.  Even the porcupine is companionably soft!

The book was released just a few weeks ago.  Grab a copy as soon as you can because you’re gonna love it.  Ages 4 and up.  There’s an absolutely fascinating explanation by Stead of the process he went through in creating this book at one of my favorite ever blogs, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast that artists/writers will especially enjoy — or anyone who adores picture books.

Angus Lost, written and illustrated by Marjorie Flack

I’m sure you know Angus, the little black Scottish terrier who is so curious, and who has a bit of a love-hate relationship with the cat who also occupies his house.  If not, you should meet him immediately.

In this episode (there are 3), Angus’ curiosity gets the best of him again when the gate is left ajar.  Quick as a wink Angus is through and deliciously at liberty on the Wide Road.  Angus is a bit weary of all the same-old, same-old of home and wants to see new places  and new things.  He gets his wish pronto, sprinting down the lane, racing other dogs, chasing cars, until…uh oh.  Darkness has set in and Angus doesn’t know the way home.

Things get worse before they get better but you can breathe easy because thanks to a Milk Wagon and Angus’ cleverness, he does arrive home again the next day.  And wonder of wonders — all the same, old, familiar things are no longer wearisome, but very, very welcome sights.

Marjorie Flack wrote the Angus stories in the 1930s.  They continue to be some of the best loved children’s stories ever.  The delightful illustrations alternate between charming graphite drawings, and glorious, retro prints featuring turquoise, apricot, lemon, and pine green.  Her text with its idiosyncratic capitalized words, is paced perfectly, drawing us from one page to the next to find out what happens to dear Angus.  My copy is tattered and taped, having been loved just about to death.  Toddlers and up will adore Angus.

Homer, written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper

Homer is a large, sweet,  bulky, lunk of a yellow lab who must be getting on in years.  I say this because any of us who has owned a Lab is well aware that young Labs are exceedingly energetic.  But Homer — he’s inclined to relax.

Homer’s family is at the beach house.  A wide, comfy veranda faces the long, calm horizon of ocean and the golden stripe of sandy beach, and that comfy veranda is just the spot for an old dog to lie, just comfortably.  As day begins, the family begins to disperse.  Each one  invites Homer to come join them in the day’s activity — walking, playing, exploring, swimming.  Yet each time, Homer easily says, “No, no.  I’m fine right here.”

Homer keeps to his post while everyone is away.  At day’s end, as each one comes trooping home, they stop for a pat and a chat with Homer.  By the time the sun is setting in a splendor of coral sky, everyone’s back in the fold, and Homer can stroll inside for a little supper and a comfy chair to snooze in.  All is right in his world, because everyone he loves is safely tucked up with him at home.

Ahhh.  This is a dog-lover’s book!  Homer reminds me of my own sweet dog who, though perhaps happy to accompany us on an outing, is supremely satisfied when she’s herded us all back to home base for the night.  A dog does love to welcome his beloved people back home, and people do love to come home to a dog.  Elisha Cooper has captured that Dog-Home bond affectionately here, with minimal text and his as-always-gorgeous watercolor and pencil illustrations.  I love how the horizon line extends steadily across each page, anchoring us in the tranquil, lazy seaside; how the light washes across the whole scene, with the vastness of sky and ocean enveloping the tiny people fiddling about in the landscape.  The bulk of Homer.  The serene blueness of bedtime in the cottage.  Exquisite.

This is another brand new book that you should be sure to check out this summer, ages preschool and up.

Pig Pig Returns, written and illustrated by David McPhail

Pig Pig is heading off on a road trip with Aunt Wilma and Uncle Fred.  And no –they are not the Flintstones.   They’re just a couple of warm-hearted pigs who’ve got a keen little trailer and big plans to drive across the country, treating Pig Pig to some great sights along the way.

The problem is:  Pig Pig does not really want to go.  He really just wants to stay home with his mom and build a model rocket.

Fred and Wilma and Pig Pig’s mother, however, win out, and into the car squeezes Pig Pig.  To be sure, there are some difficulties to iron out at the outset, but wouldn’t you know, before long Pig Pig is having the time of his life!  When it’s time to go back home, Pig Pig begins to feel a bit nervous, though.  What if his cat doesn’t remember him?  Worse — what if his mother has forgotten important things like how he likes his oatmeal?!

Well, I’m sure I won’t be utterly spoiling things for you when I tell you that dear Mother does remember Pig Pig, and even recalls just how he likes his porridge.  Phew!  A jolly time is had by all, regaling Mother with tales from the trip.  In the end, Pig Pig realizes that he has had a fantastic time, “but he was happy to be home.”  That’s a great feeling, isn’t it?

Way back when my kids were small, we enjoyed a number of Pig Pig stories.  After a very long lull, David McPhail has brought this fellow back with this straight-up happy story.  Pig Pig is delightfully easy to relate to for a young child, and his mother is a great mix of doting and hands-off.  The pudgy warmth of Pig Pig in his overalls, and his loving, large mother, will win your hearts. Read this one with your preschool and up crowd, and if you like it as much as I think you will, check out the older Pig Pig tales.

The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, retold and illustrated by Lorinda Bryan Cauley

Here’s the old Aesop tale plumped up and heaped full of quaint loveliness.

You know the basic story.  The country mouse invites his cousin, Town Mouse, for a visit.  Though Country Mouse treats him like a prince, Town Mouse is highly unsatisfied with rural living.  So, they turn the tables and Country Mouse accompanies his cousin to town, to check out the much more lively, elegant life he leads.  Before long, however, Country Mouse has had more than enough excitement, and heads back to his quiet home.  The moral of the story is, “To each his own.”

There are many retellings of this story.  Lorinda Bryan Cauley’s is the one I raised my children on.  Secretly, I think she likes the country best, and so do I, so perhaps that’s why I love this so.  Country Mouse’s dear log home, scrumptious barley-corn soup and rich nutcake dessert charm the socks off me.  Cauley’s beautiful, detailed pictures are so engaging to look at as the tale spins by — the lavish spread of strawberry shortcake and chocolate candies in the townhouse; two plump mice dipping their toes in the cool water of the brook; the elegance of Town Mouse’s living quarters, and the comfy, rustic nook of Country Mouse.  Enchanting!

This is a story every child should know, and it’s quite fun to see the varied ways it has been illustrated.  This one is a nice length for kindergarten and up.

Here are Amazon links for all these homey titles:

A Home for Bird

Angus Lost

Homer

Pig Pig Returns

Town Mouse, Country Mouse (Sandcastle Books)