The House in the Night Book Review

Children's Picture Book and a Caldecott Medal Winner

Cover art of the children's picture book bedtime story The House in the Night
The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, with art by Beth Krommes. Houghton Mifflin

Inspired by a cumulative nursery rhyme, Susan Marie Swanson wrote The House in the Night. This story of a little boy’s nighttime fantasy flight over his community is full of imaginative touches. Especially for 3- to 8-year-olds, the story is mostly told through the scratchboard illustrations by Beth Krommes, who received the 2009 Randolph Caldecott Medal for picture book illustration for The House in the Night.

Summary of the Story

This intimate bedtime story begins in a young child’s neighborhood at night, as we look down on the boy and his parents as they return to their home. There the boy opens the door with a bright yellow key. In his room, ready for bed, the boy picks up a storybook on the bed and looks at a picture of a bird. The story then moves outside to the boy’s exciting nighttime flight around the community as he imagines himself aloft on the bird.

Objects (a key, light, bed, book, bird, and moon) that are familiar but intriguing create a fantasy world through the young child’s imagination. The circular adventure begins and ends in the real world where the key still hangs in the house. While not a rhyming text, the text of The House in the Night is poetic, with one line per page consisting of three to seven words. The limited text tells the story, but it is the illustrations that depict additional imagery and actually say more than the text.

Storybook Illustrations

It’s the carefully chosen words in The House in the Night that allow the illustrator, Beth Krommes, the freedom to explore creatively the universal images. Each item that is identified in the text is illustrated on the next page so that all pages connect to one another. Intricate illustrations with a unique color scheme of white on black scratchboard with yellow watercolor highlights radiate warmth and light.

The brightness of the yellow, beginning on the endpapers, adds an accent that draws the eye to the images that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. The color of the text also adds variety, changing from black on white background to yellow on black background.

Interestingly, all of the illustrations in The House in the Night are double-page spreads. Two of the illustrations that are especially eye-catching for readers are the aerial view of the town from the child’s perspective on the bird and the moon emitting the light that the sun is shining on it. In the town spread, the depth and curves of the hills create an illustration that looks like readers are gazing at miles and miles of landscape. The moon spread brings nighttime to life with the sun shining in a different form. These unique scratchboard and watercolor images could stand alone to tell the story without the text.

About the Author, Susan Marie Swanson

For more than two and a half decades, Susan Marie Swanson has helped children write poetry through COMPAS Writers and Artists in the Schools and the arts program at St. Paul Academy. She credits the beginnings of her creative work to being encouraged as a child through singing folk songs and playing outdoors. Always reading lots of poetry, she began sending her work to literary magazines and eventually received her MFA in poetry.

Swanson was gradually influenced to move from poetry to children’s literature through reading to her own children, writing reviews of children books and studying elementary education. Her children’s picture book The First Thing My Mama Told Me was named a Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book in 2003 and her picture book To Be Like the Sun also received high praise and star reviews. The nursery rhyme “This is the key of the Kingdom” has long been one of her favorites and inspired Swanson to write The House in the Night

About the Illustrator, Beth Krommes

Growing up in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, Beth Krommes received her BFA degree in painting from Syracuse University and MAT in art education from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Through her own daughters, she became aware of the spectacular art in picture books and noticed the books and the details that captured their attention. All of their favorite picture books were both poetic and artistic, as well as books that a parent would not tire of reading over and over again. Krommes had always wanted to do a picture book in black and white and when offered the manuscript for The House in the Night found the perfect opportunity. 

Review and Recommendation

Yes, there are many outstanding picture books for sharing at bedtime, but the adventure in The House in the Night is one you will not want to miss with your child. Although the text is simplistic in nature, it is through the detailed illustrations that a child 3 to 8 years of age can imagine their own adventures. To really experience the details of the black-and-white illustrations and the richness they bring to the story, one-on-one sharing is best.

Children who experience fears of the dark or nighttime may find comfort through the child’s journey in this story where night is a warm and happy place. The House in the Night provides an inspiring and powerful adventure for both children and adults. You and your children will want to read and look at the book over and over again, especially at nighttime. (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008. ISBN: 9780618862443)

More Recommended Illustrated Children's Books

Other recommended picture books include Z is for Moose, Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons and Isabella's Garden. If you are looking for children's poetry books with terrific illustrations, Dark Emperor: Poems of the Night, Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature and An Egret's Day are all wonderful choices.