The Poetic Brevity of Deborah Freedman’s This house, once

Today’s post is a two-parter.

Part 1:

If you haven’t yet seen the loveliness that is Deborah Freedman’s newest book, This house, once (Atheneum), I hope you’ll find it.

The pencil, pastel, watercolor illustrations are soft and dreamy and so cozy I wanted to live inside each spread. The publisher’s synopsis:

“Deborah Freedman’s masterful new picture book is at once an introduction to the pieces of a house, a cozy story to share and explore, and a dreamy meditation on the magic of our homes and our world.”

Oops. I’ve repeated their “cozy” and “dreamy” adjectives. But those words truly capture what this art/text combination does. The book’s premise sounds so simple – here we have a book that focuses on how various elements of the natural world become part of a house. Yet Ms. Freedman’s text is so lyrical and evocative that it ends up feeling like so much more than that. She does a marvelous job of modeling poetic brevity for the rest of us.

From the first spread, opposite a plain oak door (with a bright red knob!):

“This door was once a colossal oak tree
about three hugs around
and as high as the blue.”

*sigh* I fell in love with the text right there.

A few pages later, we’re shown the same door, now with steps, a stone foundation, bricks leading up along its sides, and this text:

These bricks were once mud
that oozed around roots,
sticky and loose
before formed and baked hard.

And then we get to see a “before” shot of that wonderful mud.


Below is a photo I took of a more practical page. As you can see, this book provides many talking points between parent/teacher and child.

Art and text together? Magic. You’ll want to dive in.

Part 2:

One of our subscribers (Hi, Erica!) asked me about picture book workshops around the country. If you’ve attended any that were particularly helpful/inspiring, could you let the rest of us know what those are and perhaps provide a link? Thanks!

Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum is the author of many picture books. Her latest is How to Grow a Dinosaur. Other recent titles are Frankenbunny, If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party, Elwood Bigfoot– Wanted: Birdie Friends!, Teeny Tiny Toady, and I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo! Learn more at


  1. Becky Scharnhorst

    Thanks for introducing us to this cozy looking book, Jill! I love the blue cover. I look forward to checking it out.

    One of the most helpful workshops I’ve ever attended was the Highlights “Picture Books and All That Jazz” workshop with Darcy Pattison, Leslie Helakoski, and Kelly Bennett.

    • Thanks, Becky, for the link. I’ve heard Leslie in action. She’s terrific, and I’d recommend her wholeheartedly!

  2. Thank you for your post I want to pick up this book and escape for a bit.

  3. Comforting words and brilliant illustrations – can hardly wait to hold it in my hands!

  4. Just lovely.

  5. Jill, I agree. This is a masterful pairing of poetic text and sublime imagery. A book to buy, if anyone hasn’t done so yet!

  6. Great post about a book that looks awesome! I will expand on Becky’s above comment. The Highlights Foundation offers several picture book workshops throughout the year. The price for them includes all meals, a private room, transportation from the airport if needed, your materials for the workshop, and lots of one-on-one attention. You can check them out at

  7. I just read THIS HOUSE, ONCE last night! It is beautiful. And the art? Oh my–stunning!

  8. Thanks Jill for this post. The art is just beautiful but I especially love the concept of composition. This book speaks to me on so many levels.
    I’d love to know what font was used. I’m looking for a font like Comic Sans or Chalkboard where the letter “a” looks like @ because schools are particular about penmanship/cursive in early grades.

  9. What a great concept and the writing is beautiful! I look forward to reading this lovely book!

  10. Beautiful, concise, and a must-check-out!

  11. What a lovely book! I just want to get lost in it. Thank you.

  12. Concept: I know! I never would have thought of approaching this subject in this way, Danielle.

  13. Everything about this book intrigues me! Thanks for bringing it to our attention, Jill.

    One of the best picture book workshops I’ve attended (and plan on attending again this summer) is the Whispering Woods Picture Book Retreat with Jill Esbaum and Linda Skeers. 🙂

    Set on a beautiful prairie in Iowa, “We’ll study the elements of successful picture book stories and provide you with the tools necessary to make yours rise to the top of the dreaded slush pile. We’ll discuss characterization, conflict, dialogue, language and word choice, plot structure, point of view, snappy beginnings and unexpected endings, winning titles, marketing strategies, and why stories have to be close to perfect to snag the eye of an editor.”

    You’ll also get critiques and writing time. Plus, bonding with fellow writers, fun and lots of laughter. Can’t wait for July!

  14. Can’t come soon enough, Judy! I love it out there – almost magical. Thanks for mentioning us. 🙂

  15. This looks cozy and dreamy indeed (worth repeating!).

  16. THIS HOUSE, ONCE sounds and looks like a treasure. Can’t wait to read it. Thanks for sharing!

  17. What a charming book–going to find it!

  18. Theh lovely language and mistic art seem to complement each otherr perfectly. Thanks for this recommendation.

  19. This looks lovely. I can’t wait to take a look.

  20. I love Deborah Freedman’s work. I can’t wait to see this book for myself.

  21. Just my kind of book, can’t wait to read it. Thanks.

  22. Jill,
    This books looks beautiful as well as factual. I want to read it!

  23. Deborah definitely has a unique way of capturing story through text and artwork. I don’t think there is anyone who uses color, white space, and layout in quite the same way.

    As for picture book workshops, I think it’s great that several SCBWI regions are starting to offer webinar series on this genre and others. My Inland NW region held a 4-part series earlier this year I attended. Great presenters, lots of useful information, and, best of all, no travel required. When you live in winter weather areas, webinars are a welcome option.

    • Artwork: That is so true, LeeAnn!
      Workshop: Thanks so much for sharing this info. I love that people can come together to learn via webinars. Glad SCBWI has embraced that opportunity.

  24. I love books that help children see and think about things in a different light. Thanks for sharing, Jill.

  25. I love the idea of the wood for the door coming from an oak tree that’s about “three hugs around.” My kind of measurement! Lovely!

  26. BTW, Jill, just read and loved your book, “Elwood Bigfoot– Wanted: Birdie Friends!” So sweet!

  27. Beautiful! I love the concept how it teaches children where things came from. Thank you for sharing!

  28. Text is so lyrical and illustrations so inviting. Looks like one I must read soon!

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