Book looks

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

A centuries-old house provides the focal point of the poetry and painted landscapes in an intriguing collaboration by a Westerville poet and an Italian artist.

J. Patrick Lewis (the poet) and Roberto Innocenti (the painter) team on the sophisticated picture book The House, (Creative Editions, $19.95, age 9 and older) which begins in 1900 with a group of children in the Italian countryside happening upon the stone ruins of a structure built in 1656.

The house introduces its own story:

I listen as the gossip-wind exhales

Behold! The House of twenty thousand tales

No longer shut away, a doomed outcast

The children have discovered me at last.

Several pages later, Innocenti's richly detailed illustrations show men at work repairing the roof, rebuilding a stone fence, plowing fields and hewing wood. And by the next page, a family is moving in.

Lewis' 15 four-line poems -- cryptic but descriptive -- alternate with Innocenti's double-page illustrations showing the changing details. Through visual and literary clues, readers can piece together what has happened to the occupants of the house, yet still have questions.

How has life changed for the young wife and mother, widowed so early in her marriage? Which young men have gone off to fight a war? What happened when the Nazis occupied this part of the country? Why did the widow's son move away?

As time passes, the house hardly seems to be a passive, inanimate character -- especially at the end, when the once-humble home has become a property dominated by 21st-century updates, including a swimming pool, kitschy statues and a security system.

Like much in this handsome book, though, whether the ending amounts to a tragedy, a comedy or neither is in the eye of the beholder.