A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
In Mr. Rivera's class, students are asked to look at a problem from many different angles -- he takes an "interdisciplinary" approach, engaging the kids in a way that gets them curious about the world around them. The kids choose to research everything from the history of nail clippers, to Archimedes' "Eureka" moment, to the DNA of their families. When Oak and Alder stumble upon a mysterious occurrence, they learn about energy, Nikola Tesla's experiments with electricity, the astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt, and Schrodinger's cat. Alder knows a lot about knitting and explains the art of darning in detail.
Teachers can understand kids and inspire them. Moving to a new city can be tough, but if you're open to making friends and having adventures, it can also be fun. Everything is connected. Energy never dies. Love can be shrouded in mystery, but it's the tie that binds. Apologies can make a big difference. Forgiveness heals.
Positive Role Models
Mr. Rivera, Oak and Alder's teacher, creates a safe place to learn, where students can take risks and embrace learning. Alder's mom is supportive and kind. Oak's mom is an architect whose focus on work sometimes leaves Oak on the periphery, though she's capable of forgiveness. The main characters are presumably White, though there's diversity among teachers and classmates.
Violence & Scariness
Alder's father died when he was very young. Oak pushes Alder down, and he scrapes his palms, and she revels in being mean to someone she doesn't like. But then she feels badly and apologizes.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Alder's only memory of his dad is his voice and that he smelled of cigarettes.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The House That Wasn't There, by National Book Award finalist, Elana K. Arnold (A Boy Called Bat), is a heartwarming, emotionally astute story about losing a parent, losing friends, and moving to a new city. It's also about gaining connection, finding renewal in family, and a magical occurance. A principal character's dad died when he was a baby. Teleportation and mysterious events concerning animals are themes. The main characters are presumably White, though there's diversity among teachers and classmates.
Is It Any Good?
This exquisitely rendered story proves that magic is all around us. In The House That Wasn't There, author Elana K. Arnold excels at capturing the nuances of the middle school mind. Her characters are observant and thoughtful, acting upon internal dialogues that will appeal to kids who might see facets of themselves in Oak or Alder. The bouts of self-consciousness, timid success, and longing for connection feel spot-on for this age group. There's a lot to be read between the lines.
In contrast to the easy flow of school and homelife that is crafted so fluidly for these neighborhood kids, the fantasy element feels slightly intrusive. But kids who long for proof of magic and coincidence will be especially pleased. This story successfully shows that uncontrollable circumstances aren't all bad -- sometimes the twists life throws our way can be magical and healing.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.