Book Review: House Held Up By Trees

House Held Up By Trees, by Ted Kooser

It is not uncommon for odd poems (or song lyrics) [1] to be turned into full-length illustrated books, and that is exactly what this book is.  Admittedly, this book is a lot more melancholy than most of the books of this kind that I am familiar with.  Even in its mere poetic form, this particular poem has a lot of layers to it, and adding illustrations to it only makes those deeper layers of resonance more obvious to the reader and something worth reflecting.  Is this book directed to children?  One might think so with the whimsical fate of the titular house held up by trees, but the whimsicality is deeply undercut with several layers of sadness and futility that deeply moved me when I read this poem for the first time.  I wonder, though, the extent to which many of the readers of this book will be familiar with the regrets of families that this book is so full of.  It may be cute to see a house on trees, but how many people will see the deeper points about our lives and so much of our existence that this book deals with?

The story the poem tells is a somewhat simple one, but deceptively so.  A man buys a fairly ordinary house with a perfect (but somewhat boring lawn), and has a family.  His children, when they are young, play in the forest of wild trees nearby, and then move away when they get older.  The man himself fights a lonely battle against the seeds blowing in from that wild place, mowing up a storm and trying his best to get rid of the shoots that keep on trying to poke through his lawn, but after failing to get his kids to come and visit him he goes to the city after them in hopes of seeing them every once in a while and the home falls into decrepitude.  While he tries to sell the home, unsuccessfully, the forest begins to takeover the perfect house, eventually turning what had been an artificial holdout against the wild into something wild itself.  The unexpected result–one would expect the home to fall apart altogether in the absence of its family or anyone else who wanted it given the vandalism it had suffered–is one that is intended to prompt thought and reflection.

Yet how many of those layers are accessible to the book’s target audience of readers?  How many children reflect on the loneliness of a man’s efforts to mow his lawn and to encourage his children to visit and to have his demesne properly organized as he sees hit?  How many children reflect on the way that God’s creation is continually seeking to overcome the creations of man and that considerable effort must be continually undertaken to preserve and expand what we would wish to do, lest God’s creation overtake our own, returning abandoned ruins to wilderness, and cities built in the tropics to relics found in the jungles.  How often do children reflect on houses that no one really wants to live in, and on the ways that parents often make extreme efforts to see their children who have moved far away.  I know adults think of these things, perhaps often, but how often do they enter into the mind of children?  I suppose the only way to know for sure what sort of people this book is reaching and whether its intended audience is finding out who they are and asking them, but who will go and do that?

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: House Held Up By Trees

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Lady Of Shalott | Edge Induced Cohesion

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