A few months into quarantine, I started keeping a list. This is nothing new—I keep dozens of lists. Hundreds! But this particular list didn’t contain a single task or idea. I wasn’t planning for or brainstorming about anything, but simply making a note each time I noticed something our family gained because of the quarantine.
Things we already did but could now do more often? Didn’t count. Things we’d have done anyway, but now did differently? Disqualified. This list was only for things we’d never done before and had discovered only because we were home together all the time, because of the way quarantine stretched us and challenged us and made us rely on the Lord and one another differently.
For example: jigsaw puzzles. We’d never done jigsaw puzzles before. But during our long spring days indoors, they became a gathering place for us, a thing to do together around the kitchen table. Or bedtime yoga: because we never went anywhere in the evenings, my youngest daughters and I started watching five-minute evening yoga videos before bed (and let me tell you, watching an actual child do child’s pose is humbling).
My nine year old and I learned to crochet tiny Star Wars figures together; my eldest daughter and I read through The Tempest. My husband started taking Friday afternoons off so we could go on a hike or on some sort of family adventure. We hadn’t had time for these things before, but because our days sprawled before us, unfettered by schedules, we had room for new routines, new habits.
But one of the best things we gained was an appreciation for the mail. Before all this, my daughters had written maybe five letters each, ever, and they always had to ask about our zip code. These days, a flurry of letters comes and goes from our mailbox, to and from friends, grandparents, and teachers. And the care packages! Every so often, grandparents who knew we felt keenly the library’s closure sent us an assortment of new books.
That is how we discovered Home in the Woods.
This is a beautiful picture book, written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler (illustrator of John Ronald’s Dragons), about a family who, after the death of the father, must move into a small tar-paper shack in the woods. Set during the Great Depression and based on her grandmother Marvel’s life, Wheeler’s story shows how one family, despite their poverty, manages to create a home in this unlikely pocket of the woods.
Though they arrived grieving, Marvel and her seven siblings plant their seeds and watch for a garden. They explore the winding deer paths and discover hidden patches of berries. Wheeler’s illustrations are beautiful, filled with little living details (the baby, for example, is fun to follow from page to page). The colors themselves grow more vivid throughout the book as, over the course of the year, the family begins to smile again (even Mum).
In an author’s note at the back of the book, Wheeler shares some of the details that her grandmother and her grandmother’s siblings recalled. She writes, “What an incredibly hard time it must have been, and yet they recall the memories from those years as some of their best. They all had purpose and found inventive ways to work together and make it fun.”
Home in the Woods shows the transformation of one family from hardship to peace. The story isn’t too neat and pat, but it isn’t too heavy for young readers either—the young narrator keeps the story child-sized. And so it was a great book for this time, as it reminds us that hard things don’t stay hard forever. There are little secret berry patches, little surprise blessings, hidden for us all along the way.