A Boy and a House is a wordless picture book by Maja Kastelic, a Slovenian author/illustrator with a background in painting and fresco restoration. As you may know, I am a big fan of wordless picture books, a format I’ve really started to appreciate since setting out on this world book journey. In particular, I love the way wordless books can travel across borders and offer readers of all ages the chance to explore each page and create their own stories.
The illustrations in A Boy and a House are dark and grainy like an old sepia photograph, but with a subtle variety of tones: greens, browns and greys, illuminated by bright light emanating from townhouse windows and rich dark red accents. There is an amazing attention to detail in the streetscape from the architecture to street signs and numbers, cats perched on rooftops and mice tucked behind window panes, and an owl with shining eyes surveying the scene. The focus on the minutiae continues throughout the book.
The story opens with a young boy in a striped T-shirt heading out of a house. He walks along the pavement carrying his little backpack, looking around him. There seems to be no real sense of purpose in his movement, more an openness to new experiences and a desire to explore and discover. A black cat catches his eye in the doorway of No. 34 Andersen Street and entices him inside. As he follows the cat upstairs through rooms and along hallways, the young boy collects a pile of childlike drawings that are scattered through the house. When he finally arrives on the rooftop as day breaks across the city, a wonderful surprise is waiting for him. (I won’t spoil it for you here!)
A Boy and a House is a simple tale of adventure and discovery and those wanting a ‘stronger’ storyline may be disappointed. I would suggest that there is much more to this glorious picture book than meets the eye. Each double spread is awash with detail. Follow the black cat! It is always ahead of the young boy, sometimes waiting in a doorway for him to catch up; on other occasions half-way up a flight of stairs, showing the boy, and the reader, the way. Eagle-eyed observers will also enjoy the playful mouse duo that appears in every spread, while art aficionados will relish the nods to a variety of artists, notably in the hallway of the old house. Magnificent objects from a not-so-distant past dot the pages, too: a gramophone, an empty birdcage, rustic skeleton keys on a hoop, books, a stack of newspapers. And the two street names that feature? Grimm and Andersen.
A Boy and a House is a treasure trove of a book. Take the time to search for the little gems contained within its pages – and you’ll be coming back for more.
A Boy and a House by Maja Kastelic (Annick Press, 2018)
Maja Kastelic is a Slovenian author/illustrator whose work has been selected for the prestigious White Ravens list and the Bologna Illustrators’ Exhibition. She started her career as a retouching artist restoring frescoes, but in 2012 decided to pursue her love of children’s books. Her new wordless picture book The Little Girl and the Garden is due to be released by Mladinska Knjiga Publishing House in Slovenia this year.
Check out this post on Picturebook Makers for more information on the creative process behind A Boy and a House.
Note: An edited version of this post was published on the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative blog on 12 September 2019. It is one in a series of posts celebrating world kid lit month.