A family of hippie hipsters - or post-hipster hippies if you want to split hairs - move from their Hampden rowhouse to a field outside of Monkton and build a house, two toddlers in tow and a bun in the oven. Does mom wear glasses? Does dad wear plaid? Is their jeep a vintage Willys, are their shoes extra-chunky? Does a cat lurk on the periphery?
Do not hold any of these things against them.
Really, don't. Instead, go find this book, and you will see that I kid because I love. This family could be my friend Sara's family, or Ben Hatke's. They are as charming as that slinky cat, and twice as competent.
Working my way slowly and lovingly through this book, I noticed details and themes. I thought of Ma and Pa Ingalls out on the prairie digging a well and putting up a cabin. I watched the seasons change and noted the curious neighbors (most of them quadrupeds) coming to take a peek. I saw the kids helping out and making their own fun, the way kids do. Trying to use the wheelbarrow as a seesaw, sliding down the gravel pile. Friends and relatives help out. (Dad is going to really hurt himself using a circular saw like that, but I think in a project of this magnitude a trip or two to the ER is par for the course.)
I love Jonathan Bean's work, all of it, I consistently do. His own book At Night, his covers, The Apple Pie That Papa Baked, the flipbook in the corners of Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat. He has such an appreciation of quiet domestic pleasures, the jokey camaraderie of family that is the everyday face of deep, unbreakable bonds. You can rarely spot more than a squiggle or dot of expression on the faces of his little characters, but, as is often the case in families, you don't need to see their faces to know how they're feeling - it's all in their posture and actions.
Slowly, and then sometimes quickly, the house takes shape. Windows and doors arrive. The cat has kittens. Mom has the baby, and it is spring and the family finally spends the night in their new home and everything about this makes me smile. Including the prominence of the vacuum cleaner, which Dad has tucked under his arm as he kisses his bespectacled Madonna, rocking the baby in an old-fashioned wooden rocker, a hunk of lumber for a footstool. If he's bringing that thing to her so that she can get up and vacuum once the baby passes out, I think she's going to set him straight pretty damn promptly. THAT's how much I love these people.
BEST OF ALL. The last two pages of the book feature photos of Bean's own family building their own house when he was a small child. This kind of verisimilitude - wait, hell with verisimilitude, we are talking actually really real reality here - this kind of link to actual things that happened produces a fascination in young readers that cannot be bought in any store at any price. But this book can!
Oh no, shamefaced PS! Turns out, Jonathan Bean lives in Harrisburg PA. This has all kinds of significance - Harrisburg is possibly the least cool burg in the least cool state in these our United ones, and therefore by the twisted and inescapable so-far-ahead-we're-behind logic of high hipsterhood, it is what Brooklyn emulates. Which is to say that it is likely that Jonathan Bean's people are not wearing ironic spectacles and an ironic barn coat and ironic plaid, no. I will bet you that that plaid is the genuine article. How could I have doubted, when everything else about this book is so sincere?