House That Once Was (A House That Once Was)

House That Once Was     (A House That Once Was)

Book Information

Reader Personality Type
Roaring Brook Press May 2018

“Who was this someone

who walked down this hallway

who cooked in this kitchen

who napped in this chair?

Who was this someone

who left without packing

someone who’s gone

but is still everywhere?”


In the attic, inside a big plastic storage bin of old photos and memorabilia, there’s a black-and-white snapshot of me taken in 1966. I’m grinning and sweaty, a hammer in my hand, perched on the roof that covers the front porch of a old house in Selden, New York. Back then, my parents’ business was renovating and reselling houses. I spent my Saturdays and part of my summers working on their job sites.


When some young people see an old, abandoned house, they think “Creepy!” “Scary!” “Spooky!” When I see an old, abandoned house, I still imagine the possibilities for repairing it.


In contrast, the pair of young siblings who stumble upon and enter an abandoned house in A HOUSE THAT ONCE WAS imagine who might have once lived in this house “that once was but now isn’t a home.”


A HOUSE THAT ONCE WAS is a noteworthy picture book that offers young audiences a gateway into discussions of family and community history, and how the many consumer goods that surround us in our daily lives, things like cars, telephones, toys, kitchen tools, etc., differ greatly in appearance and functionality from one generation to another.


Page after page, this lyrical tale offers an abundance of visual details to be closely examined. Among the objects we see on just one memorable page spread are a ship in a bottle; an old toy airplane; some broken vinyl records; a skeleton key; an old-fashioned push-down-the-handle spinning top; a shelf of books along with an old diary or photo album; a grinning mouse peeking through a hole chewed in an old photo portrait on the wall; and what looks like an old hat that is embossed with “CLIO.”

In Greek mythology, Clio is the muse of history.


Lane Smith has achieved new heights here. The captivating illustrations were created in two distinctively different styles. One subset of illustrations features the children encountering, entering, and exploring the rickety, abandoned house. The second subset shows us the kids’ imaginings of the possible former inhabitants.


Readers attentive to detail will recognize that the house is, in fact, still inhabited, not just by the mouse, but by a bluebird that we meet on the title page and who, it turns out, has a nest of chicks in one of those “trees coming in where the roof used to go.”


This engaging masterpiece is not to be missed. You’ll never again look at a creaky old house the same way.

48 pages     978-1626723146   Ages 3-6


Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California  USA

See more of his recommendations at:  Richie's Picks


The dynamic duo of Ezra Jack Keats Award–winning author Julie Fogliano and Caldecott Award–winning illustrator Lane Smith team up to tell a delightful story about a boy and a girl who explore an abandoned house and imagine who might have lived there in A House That Once Was.

Deep in the woods is a house just a house that once was but now isn’t a home.

Who lived in that house? Who walked down its hallways? Why did they leave it, and where did they go?

Two children set off to find the answers, piecing together clues found, books left behind, forgotten photos, discarded toys, and creating their own vision of those who came before.

48 pages     978-1626723146   Ages 3-6

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