House That Lou Built (The House That Lou Built)

House That Lou Built  (The House That Lou Built)

“Keep smiling, keep shining

Knowing that you can always count on me, for sure

That’s what friends are for”

-- Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager (1982)


“Now it’s just me, Mom, and Lola. Lolo died three years ago, but we first moved in when I was a little kid. Mom had me when she was only nineteen, a kid herself. Al least, that’s how our family gossips about it. And now here we are, Mom snoring like a chainsaw.

Having my own room would be awesome-sauce.

‘Mom?’ I whisper. No answer. She’s out.

From under the bed I slip out a flashlight and a long, fat cylinder of paper. My blueprint.

It crinkles as I pull off the rubber band and roll the paper open like a giant map. It’s soft and thin under my fingers, full of notes and numbers. I shine the light.

The land I own belonged to Dad’s family, the Nelsons--my dad, Michael Nelson; Grandpa Ted; and Grandma Beverly. Dad died in a car accident a month before I was born, so we never met. But I have his land, so at least I know some part of him.

I wasn’t going to start construction until I had all the materials, but if Mom wants to move us away, I might never have the chance to build. Once she has an idea, that’s all she can focus on. Me too. Stubbornness is one of the traits Lola says Mom and I share.

My shop teacher, Mr. Keller, has a quote up in his classroom that I like: Seize the day. That’s what I’ll do.

‘Lucinda, go to sleep.’ Mom glances my way before turning over, her back to me like a wall.   I shut off the flashlight and bury myself under the covers. When it seems like she’s asleep, I aim a bright circle onto my plans.

My new house will have a composting toilet and, right above the kitchen, a cozy sleeping loft. Giant picture windows will frame redwoods. Anytime I need to get away for peace and quiet, I’ll go there.

Time to make it real. Seize the day!”


Twelve year-old Lou Bulosan-Nelson doesn’t want to leave her San Francisco Bay Area family and friends behind and move to the Pacific Northwest with her mom. But she might have to.

 Lou and her mom live in a room in Lou’s maternal grandmother’s house in San Francisco. Mom struggled to work days while completing a nursing degree at night. Now that she’s graduated, Mom can make more money and begin building a college fund for Lou. But if no job opportunities pan out locally, she might need to take a job in Washington State, far from the Bay Area Filipino community, which anchors their lives.

 Lou wants to stay near San Francisco and utilize the building plans she’s developed to build a “tiny house,” a compact, 100 square-foot house on nearby land in the North Bay that she inherited from her dad.

 I grew up working on construction sites and I’ve spent half my life living in houses I designed and helped build. I’ve read articles about the tiny house movement, and have been curious about the possibilities they provide. THE HOUSE THAT LOU BUILT sounded like a tale that was right up my alley.

 The struggle to build a house certainly frames Lou’s story. But much more importantly, this was a lovely coming-of-age tale about growing up with the loving support of friends and a culturally-rich, extended ethnic community.

 I enjoyed the realistic depiction of Lou’s quest to build a house. She’s worked to become a talented woodshop student, under the aegis of a teacher who is a family friend. She also has a connection to the owner of a nearby junkyard, where she finds treasures for her future house. I initially wondered how Lou and her mom could pay the property taxes on even a small piece of Bay Area real estate while living under tough economic conditions. I was pleased to see this issue treated so realistically: it actually becomes a serious problem for them.

 I also like the realism of Lou’s stubbornness. She’s a good kid, but she is not a model daughter by any means.

 The feelings that will stay with me about this story involve festivals and foods and first kisses. It’s so great that the hot middle school guy turns out to be a really good guy who admires Lou and becomes a close friend to her.

 THE HOUSE THAT LOU BUILT is a great tween story that includes rich ethnic diversity and a lot of heart.

240 pages       978-1-5247-1794-0      Ages  9-13

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California  USA

See more of his recommendations:  Richie's Picks

******* Lou Bulosan-Nelson has the ultimate summer DIY project. She's going to build her own "tiny house," 100 square feet all her own. She shares a room with her mom in her grandmother's house, and longs for a place where she can escape her crazy but lovable extended Filipino family. Lou enjoys her woodshop class and creating projects, and she plans to build the house on land she inherited from her dad, who died before she was born. But then she finds out that the land may not be hers for much longer.

Lou discovers it's not easy to save her land, or to build a house. But she won't give up; with the help of friends and relatives, her dream begins to take shape, and she learns the deeper meaning of home and family.--from the publisher


"If this book were a house, the rooms would be filled with warmth, family, and friendship." --Erin Entrada Kelly, author of Hello, Universe; The Land of Forgotten Girls; and Blackbird Fly

"Warm, funny and affirming. As we get to know Lou, her extended Filipino family, and friends, the door opens into her life and, ultimately, her home." --Lisa Yee, author of the Millicent Min trilogy, The Kidney Hypothetical, the DC Super Hero Girls series, and other books

"There couldn't be a hero more determined, resourceful or lovable than Lucinda Bulosan-Nelson. Her big dream of a tiny house is irresistible." --Tricia Springstubb, author of Every Single Second, What Happened on Fox Street, Moonpenny Island, and the Cody series

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