Cumulative stories, such as This is the House that Jack Built are a staple of children’s literature. I have never particularly cared for this type of story, however. The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, however manages to skillfully blend the elements of a cumulative tale that appeal to children – namely the repetition and familiarity of the format – while at the same time doing so in a manner that is not boring or repetitious or likely to leave the adult reader impatiently awaiting the final refrain. Instead, the book gently unfolds a nested story using the illustrations as much as the text to back up the idea that the each succeeding element is a piece of the last, rather than endlessly repeating the previous information. The second half of the book slowly brings us back to the beginning.
The illustrations by Beth Krommes perfectly accompany the words. The pictures are mostly shades of black and grey, with spots of gold that are practically lit up by the contrast with the darkness around them. Small details abound, rewarding an observant reader. The image of a girl imagining herself on the back of a bird is exultant without being in the least twee.
The book as a whole is a quieter, gentler story than many others found in the children’s room. It would be perfect for a bedtime story, or for a quiet spell in the middle of a busy day. When this year’s award nominations are announced, I will be very surprised if this book is not nominated in at least one award competition.