Five something-year-olds can be delightfully brutal and unsparing with their observations and subsequent proclamations on life. Audrey is one such five year-old. She may be younger or slightly older; but one thing’s for certain, she does look bigger than she did yesterday, which is why she announces to her father that, ‘your house is getting too small for me’. What Audrey needs is a house of her own.
A House of Her Own is the latest collaboration between the relatively new picture book pairing of Jenny Hughes and Jonathan Bentley. It’s a partnership that works a treat, gently examining the taste for independence pre-schoolers begin to develop as they become more self-aware.
Audrey is a young lady with specific tastes however so finding the perfect location to build her dream dwelling takes some time. Eventually she reasons that the tallest tree in the garden is the only site that satisfies her daily ‘growing bigger’ dilemma and instructs Dad to commence construction.
Again, Audrey’s exacting requirements take some time for Dad to fulfil, but with infinite good patience, he builds her a ‘place to play, with a bath tub for snorkelling’ and ‘a blue bed, to keep secrets underneath’; features that would please the most discerning home renovator.
It isn’t until Dad packs up for the night, leaving Audrey to fend for herself in her new abode, that doubt begins to seep in, causing Audrey to question her rash quest for independence. Dad is delightfully indifferent to her growing concerns until he suggests a place she’ll feel safe and warm in, a place where she is always welcome, no matter how much bigger she becomes.
As a parent, A House of Her Own made me grin with intuitive understanding and compassion. I mean, who doesn’t want a tree house of their own. Jenny Hughes weaves typical pre-schooler indignity with humorous clarity into a tale singing with emotional insight and warmth. It’s The Block meets Play School, with characters better defined and more recognisable than found in some older-audience aimed works of fiction.
Hughes’ delicate treatment of a comfortably repeating narrative enables the tender relationship of the occasionally irascible Audrey and her single-parenting father to really shine.
Jonathon Bentley’s watercolour and pencilled illustrations lend more than a note of whimsy to the story line. There’s a sunny backyard openness that filters from each page deep into your (childhood) heart. Each illustration explores every perspective and angle of Audrey’s project and emotional quandary, with detailed sensitivity that lures your eye to the page and keeps it there.
A House of Her Own is an anytime story that begs to be read again and again – at least my young miss thought so. It highlights the realisation that fanciful desires don’t always match with a longing for security, but also reaffirms that, making a stance in life need not isolate you from others or those who love you, something many teenagers would do well to accept. A beautiful tale brimming with affection, perfect for anyone with lofty dreams and sky-high expectations.
Little Hare Books imprint of Hardie Grant Egmont September 2014