I bought this, I have to admit knowing precisely zero about it other than it had a pretty cover (and also was on our Book of the Year shortlist at work do I thought I should read it!)…
The House Without Windows by Barbara Newhall Follett, illustrated by Jackie Morris
The backstory to this is that it was written by Barbara Newhall Follett when she was 9, but subsequently lost so she then spent several years re-writing it until this version was published in 1927 when she was 12.
Eepersip has run away, initially unintentionally as she heads out to spend a day outdoors then likes it so much she stays. We follow her through meadow, seaside and mountain (with a brief detour home to steal her sister, albeit temporarily).
It’s a funny little thing this one.
A lot of it reads like a child’s story (which is unsurprising since it is one) as well as having a gentle, slightly old-fashioned style.
There’s a great deal of ‘then this, then this, then this’ as if events are being popped down as they occur with little regard for the practicalities, likelihood or plausibility. This isn’t a bad thing as such, just a noticeable one.
For example, the great lengths Eepersip’s parents go to to find and capture her (for starters swapping houses with some people they barely know and enlisting the help of some vague acquaintances with a tent or others with a kitten they recognise then coming up with one harebrained plan after another) only to take a break and leave her to it when winter comes with the idea of trying again when the weather improves.
Meanwhile, Eepersip is making friends with deer and chipmunks, butterflies and a kidnapped kitten and generally having a lovely time dancing, singing and playing in nature. Foraging and fashioning herself dresses from seaweed or ferns and going barefoot, despite the initial discomfort, she’s truly become a child of nature.
And this book is truly that too. Its childish voice when it comes to events is gone when it shows us the wonders of the wild world all around. Then it becomes vivid, assured and completely and utterly in tune with nature.
In a way, I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that the two styles seem so at home together, as children and nature so often are. Indeed, Eepersip’s absolute awe and joy at being free outdoors capture this beautifully.
Flora and fauna abound – names, details and descriptions meet feelings, movement and imagery. Fact meets fiction seamlessly and the power and constancy of nature are clear.
The contrasts we come across between meadow and beach and mountain, as well as the seasons that change around us are equally stunning – each uniquely wondrous and difficult in its own way, each bringing its own delights, dangers and rewards.
The addition here of Jackie Morris’ illustrations only adds to this. Her own love of nature is no secret and, as with Newhall Follett’s words, this spills over and shines through in her illustrations – in their power and freedom and detail and delicacy and knowledge.
As a story, its hard to know what I make of this. Although I have to say I thought the ending was excellent. I spent a good deal of time pondering how she would bring it to any kind of (satisfactory) conclusion, but she managed it brilliantly.
I do think this would be a good pick for those just starting on longer books (either to read to, with or alone), especially those with a love of animals, outdoors and nature. Its straightforward (if slightly odd) tale with its lack of twists, moments of gentle humour and animals who befriend this little girl are sure to be popular.
But more than that, this is a must-read for nature lovers of any age just for the richness and realness of the animals, habitats, weather and wild it showcases. A love letter to nature of ever there was one, and a reminder of the joy, positivity and reviving qualities getting outside can bring, especially for children but even for non-outdoorsy types like me!