Sunday, January 20, 2013

Building Our Home by Jonathan Bean

Building Our Home by Jonathan Bean

Rating: 5 stars

Everyone in our house likes this book, but Ben is the most smitten.  Here is a book that has the potential to stay in his head and work its magic through childhood and into adulthood.  Can one children's book do that?  I sure do think so.

Or maybe he's just trying to shove the pictures in his brain through osmosis; he fell asleep with his head on the last page of this book.  I think there's a little pile of Ben drool still there...

Anyway, this book is a gem.  Based on the true story of his parents moving out to the country and building their own home with the help of all kids big enough to wield a hammer, Jonathan Bean writes a simple tale of building his family's home.  His core family--at the beginning of the book, four people, but by the end there's an additional baby--is the work crew.  Each page shows them working hard, together.  "Dad lays the rocks one on top another while we fill the loud mixing machine."  Later, Grandpa visits with his backhoe (Ben: "Does Grand-Dad have a backhoe, Mommy?"  Me, thinking of how my father doesn't even have a tool box: "I don't think so, Ben, but we can call and ask. You never know.")

But this year the first frost arrives early.
But more people are needed to build this house, of course, and they throw a frame-raising party where extended family comes to help as well as workers from the quarry and sawmill.  Everyone pitches in then, and for the moving in party at the end of the book.

The last pages of the book, after the story is complete, is the wonderful Author's Note.  Bean shares six pictures of his family constructing "the Bean Homestead" that he helped build and then grew up in.  He lauds the "wise love of two parents, the companionship of three sisters, and a practically lived faith."  He also says that in real life the house didn't take just 18 months like in the book.  It took five years.  I'm glad he admits to fictionalizing his childhood a bit, lest we dreamers get any crazy ideas to build our own homes in a year or two.

But we who are lucky only remembers the good times from childhood.  A house--a home--was built, and that's what the author remembers.  The New York Times rightly praised this book last week, read it here, (I should be reading this week's paper instead of typing this...).  I love that the Times fit Building Our Home in among two other books about America.  It doesn't scream out patriotism, but it does imbibe the pioneer spirit that is oh-so-wonderfully American.

I really do wonder if, for Ben, this is one of those books that really captures his imagination in a great, great way.  Time will tell, as it always does.

(As if this post isn't long enough.  So I found out on his blog that the author lives in Harrisburg, PA, and had an open house at THE house from the book.  Man!  I might have driven the two hours to attend with my book in hand.  Dorky confession, I realize...  Hmmm, do you think the author might do it again sometime?)


  1. This review is so Love it!

  2. Have you read Jonathan's book "At night"? I think you would enjoy that one, too :) [sidebar] Jonathan is my nephew and we are very proud of his work! ~Elaine

    1. Will you ask him to have another open house at the Bean Homestead puh-lease??! I have At Night near me in our library stack and really love it. And the Apple Pie (love that dad made it, not mom) book. For every one book I blog about, there are ten others that I want to blog about! Thanks for commenting--comments always make my week. :)

    2. I just saw your reply--thanks :) I don't know if they could replicate the atmosphere and "success" of their original open house, and of course I couldn't speak for my sister and family who worked very hard to make it a special evening, but it would be fun [smile], Here is a link to a very nice article by the Reading Eagle newspaper about that memorable day. ~Elaine

      p.s I was so excited to find your blog as my daughter is very interested in starting a blog to review books for tweens/young adults. She finds that area very lacking. I shared your blog with her.

  3. About the open house: the one at the original homestead has come and gone, but Jonathan hosts an open house at his studio/apartment monthly as part of Harrisburg's "Third in the 'burg. I'm sure he'd love for you to come, and the event is always children friendly. I'd check his blog for more info.
    ~Emily, one of the three sisters

  4. Really! That is great to know. Thanks--will keep an eye on his blog.