A shoe, a home, a shoe for a home…the heart in a home in a shoe

The shape and form of a home tends to be a minor consideration when as adults we are more concerned with just the thought of having one over our heads. But as children, our imagination makes us prone to valuing the size and shape of the home as a symbol of our own innermost desires, our projections and idealization of the place we wish to inhabit.

As a child, I remember feeling deeply drawn to all things tiny: curious, full of cabinets and tiny chests, passageways, hidden doorways… I felt that in that reduction of a place perhaps I was safer, not being able to be found by whatever it was I feared at the time. I remember delving in the pages of a now vintage book, Gnomes by Will Huygen. The intricate illustrations by Rien Poortvliet delighted me in such a manner that more than believing in these imaginary beings, what attracted me was the fact that one could live in a tree. Inside, hidden but not so implying it to be still or stationary. Living tiny, but not implying boredom, lack of hobbies, chores or rituals (as a matter of fact, the gnomes were always busy!) Living tiny, but not a stranger to life.

Gnomes; Will Huygen and Rien Poortvliet | 7 January 1979

More so, nursery rhymes also picked up on this nonsensical imagery: a mother and her loads of children living in a shoe. But even if some versions of There Was and Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe kept the whimsical truth of a tired mother spanking her kids “soundly” to bed (she had so many children, she didn’t know what to do!), my mind’s eye drifted of to the image of a boot with many windows, small compartments inside. The boot did not enlarge itself; it was the mother and the children who had to be tiny in order to fit a fully furnished house inside a shoe.

Illustration from Mother Goose Picture Book (Merrill 1531)| Chicago: Merrill Co, 1958. 

The desire for a house, -the magical thinking that builds a representation of one-, is really a yearning of a home. And a home can be a shoe, a farm, a flat, a boat, a concrete cube, a wigwam…. Carson Ellis’s picture book Home speaks to the essence of finding a place of one’s own. Be it magical, mundane, foresty or “moonian”, homes come in all shapes, sizes and styles. Homes are tailor-made. And so she asks, but why?

On the next-to last image, an artist draws at a desk at her home. A deeper look will reveal a collection of hints that belong to the homes previously portrayed. The artist’s home is full of memorabilia, -perhaps memories of past travels, relics handed down from family, artifacts collected or made. This image offers a powerful meaning: the home is a commonplace, a work in progress, a reflection of the dweller.

Ellis’s powerful, luscious yet subtle illustrations are the centerpiece of this picture book. A simple and scarce text is sufficient to point the reader towards the imagery created. Homes are not stereotypes. Homes are adapted to or a reflection of its inhabitants.

A delicate picture book that can spark a conversation with small readers about what it means to have a home and our own participation in making our house a place for those who live in it. Four questions are suspended throughout the pages: Who lives here? Why? Where is your home? Where are you? And all four can be resolved in one: Home is where the heart is.

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Home. Carson Ellis | Walker Books

From the Editor:

Carson Ellis, creator of the picture book ‘Home’, worked with Central Office to create this beautiful video that’s part book trailer and part studio tour. Travel to Carson’s home and explore her beautiful art and story and discover the many possibilities of what home can be.


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