Julia's House for Lost Creatures: We All Need a Place to Call Home
My son and I were recently reading a new picture book together when we saw a little ghost on the page. The ghost was simply part of the scenery, and it was very small, no bigger than half-an-inch. The ghost made a big impression on my son, however, and he immediately shouted, "Hey! That's the same ghost from Julia's House for Lost Creatures." Quite frankly, he noticed this before I did. Sometimes his memory is astounding. What I do know is that when something gets his imagination going he is not forgetting it anytime soon.
He was right, by the way. Ben Hatke is the author and illustrator of both books, and definitely one of our favorite artists now. His penchant for creature and world creation is a joy to experience and he's a master of getting our imagination flowing. He builds his characters and fantasy worlds so beautifully and creatively - even this little background ghost left a large enough impression on my son to connect the dots between these two books read months apart.
Sometimes I'm sold on a book very quickly. Julia's House for Lost Creatures had me sold on the title page. On this beautifully illustrated page we see that Julia's house is traveling on the back of a giant tortoise, and then absolutely nothing is mentioned about this in the book. Nada. On the first page, the tortoise is already settled down and can no longer be seen. The first line is simply: "Julia's house came to town and settled by the sea."
For what it's worth, my imagination started thinking about Morla from The Neverending Story, and the house on its back made me think of Howl's Moving Castle. It's a real testament to the work of Hatke that I start thinking about some of my favorite things on the title page. The reason that this opening sells me on the book so quickly, is that Hatke masterfully provides just enough detail here to fire up our own imaginations. Then we're left to try and flesh out our own ideas about Julia and the world she lives in.
Likewise, we know very little about the lost creatures that come to live with Julia. Hatke gives us bits and pieces of information, just enough to find them endearing. Mostly all we know is that they are "lost". We know her first guest, Patched Up Kitty, isn't like other kitties, and that the troll had his bridge torn down, but we're in charge of filling in the details of their backstories on our own. It's safe to say they're coming to Julia because they don't have anywhere else to go, and instantly we're rooting for them to find happiness.
Julia reminds me very much of the strong, independent, loving girls from all of Hayao Miyazaki's movies. If you've never seen them, the protagonists all tend to set off in the world by themselves, encounter all sorts of creatures, and discover love in the form of true companionship. Funnily enough, it just so happens that one of his films is the aforementioned Howl's Moving Castle, which not only features a strong, young woman, but also a house that literally moves about the countryside with a lonely owner living inside that needs companionship.
Because the artwork and the imaginative setting is so wonderful, I wouldn't think twice about reading Julia's House for Lost Creatures to my kids, even if they weren't old enough to understand me yet. Hatke's work might speak to me because of my love of fantasy - trolls, mermaids, gnomes, houses on the backs of giant tortoises - but it also speaks to me because of the very subtle nod to powerful human emotions like loneliness and companionship. Everyone deserves a place to call home and a place where they belong.
Do you own Julia's House for Lost Creatures? Can you think of any other books where wonderful and imaginative characters are the highlight for you? Let us know in the comments.