With housing costs shooting through the proverbial roof and apartment rents stretching budgets, wouldn't it be marvelous to find the perfect place for only $28.12?
That's what Henry David Thoreau paid for construction materials for his cabin at Walden Pond, near Concord, Mass. True, Thoreau invested quite a bit of sweat equity - he erected the cabin himself. And, yes, that was more than 150 years ago. Nonetheless, it was Thoreau's strongly held views about the purpose of a house - as well as his enthusiasm for recycling and borrowing - that kept the costs down.
Readers are invited to retrace Thoreau's home-building feat in D.B. Johnson's latest picture book, "Henry Builds a Cabin." They will find it a delightful companion to Johnson's earlier, award-winning volume based on Thoreau, "Henry Hikes to Fitchburg." In the new book - a beautifully illustrated, tightly written work - Henry's friends suggest that his cabin isn't big enough or grand enough. But Henry has his own ideas. He tells them it includes a detached dining room, library, and ballroom - all executed in perfect minimalist style.
How did Johnson develop his somewhat fanciful story? On a stopover in Boston, Johnson said he envisioned the last page of the book first - with Henry using the tiny cabin in a most unusual way. Then he worked the story - text and illustrations - backward from there. In the process, Johnson drew on his own memories of construction. When he was a little boy, his father had built the family's home.
Johnson fills the pages, not only with Henry's story, but also with visual surprises for the very alert. For example, you'll find many different woodland critters working alongside Henry. For 21st-century fun, log on to the Internet at: www.henrybuilds.com. You'll find book-related activities, an interview with Johnson, and additional links to relevant sites.
• Karen Carden reviews children's books from Seattle.