Speaking of traveling companions made me think about The Hidden House which has been on my queue for children's picture books ever since I started my blog, waiting its turn. It was written by Martin Waddell and illustrated by Angela Barrett and appears to be another of those hauntingly beautiful books that go out of print.
Martin Waddell is a prolific writer of books for children. I reviewed another beautiful book of his, The Big Big Sea, here, but I think he might be more well-known for his Big Bear, Little Bear books.
The Hidden House seems to me like the perfect book to put here at this time of rebirth, of looking for hidden eggs, of peeking into the deepest mysteries of the world.
The title itself and the idea of a hidden house are enough to make me want to open the cover.
Martin Waddell's deceptively simple words hint at more than meets the eye, and Angela Barrett's delicate watercolors bring this hidden world to life. The story begins in such a simple, straightforward way to tell about an old man who was lonely:
"In a little house, down a little lane, lived an old man. His name was Bruno. He was very lonely in the little house, so he made wooden dolls to keep him company."
I love the simple message here: When you are lonely, make something to keep you company.
"He made three of them. The one with the knitting is Maisie, the one with the spade is Ralph, and the one with the pack on his back is Winnaker."
I love his names for his dolls. I love how he gave each doll something to hold onto, too. Maisie can make beautiful garments, Ralph can make a garden, Winnaker can wander the world. The narrator of the story tells us, "The dolls didn't talk, but I think they were happy."
But one day the old man goes away and does not return. The dolls wait for him at a window. And here the book goes into the poetry of what happens when a house is left to the whims of nature:
"Brambles choked the garden, and ivy crept in through the window of the little house and spread about inside. A pale tree grew in the kitchen."
Spiders, mice, beetles, toads, ants and other creepy-crawlies come in. Dust and mildew come in. And slowly the house begins to disappear from view. As this progression takes place, the narrator lets us know how he thinks the dolls might be feeling: lonely, interested, sad. And then when winter comes and covers the house with snow:
"Lots of things came in from the woods and hid there, away from the cold."
And we see a stray cat making its way toward the house hidden in the snow.
Spring comes. A man and his wife and their little girl find the hidden house. They clear away the wilderness, and clean and paint, and fix everything up. The girl finds the dolls, and she makes them all new again. There is a lovely illustration of the girl bent over Maisie, very intently painting her face.
And I love it that there are many cats now roaming around very happily.
The narrator ends the story by telling us that even though Maisie and Ralph and Winnaker did not say anything, he is thinks "they were happy again."
When I was growing up, my Oma and Opa (my German grandparents on my father's side) gave me two grown-up dolls, which, in fact, looked just like them: a little old man and a little old woman all dressed in black. I never played with these dolls, for they did not seem like "dolls" to me, but something else that I had no word for. I don't know what happened to them, but they fascinated me beyond belief, and I have never forgotten them. I have always thought of them as the "old-world" dolls, the ones that got lost somewhere.
I think the dolls in The Hidden House are that kind of old-world doll, and that this is a storybook that might seem to a child to not quite be for children, but that it would be so fascinating to a child's imagination that it would never be forgotten.
It is definitely a hauntingly quiet and deep story.
A perfect story, perhaps, for celebrating the deepest mysteries of life and death and rebirth, and the chance to begin again, to begin anew.