Do you know your neighbors? In ten years of living in my house, it has only been during the last few that I have gotten to know mine. Why so long? I wonder.
We live in a world where we fear an unknown man walking down the street. We lock doors at every turn. We pull our coats and hats tight around us and look the other way so many times a week, a day. Yet, what we truly need more of is community.
A Home for Mr. Emerson written by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham, is a picture book that expresses the joy that comes by surrounding yourself with neighbors and friends. Even more than that, this book lauds the ideal of not locking ourselves away from the world, but acknowledging that we need to care for and allow ourselves to be cared for by others.
"The only way to have a friend, is to be one." -RWE
We all know Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was a writer, thinker, nature-lover, transcendentalist, and general all around good and famous guy of the mid-1800s. I expected this book to be about his writing, as all books about Emerson are. But instead, this moves in a different direction, one that took me by surprise and was incredibly refreshing. Kerley glosses over Emerson's writing and fame, and focuses on the steps Emerson took throughout his life to create a community. He built a home, he found a wife, he had children, but that wasn't enough. He knew he needed friends. And so he set about to create a close-knit community in Concord.
The illustrations by Fotheringham are quite stunning; the page layouts are dynamic, the colors vibrate, the characters jump off the page. My favorite image is the one where Emerson is wandering through a glowing orange forest but some of the trees are books! The text utilizes quotes from Emerson, interspersed throughout the story, which brings the man to life. This is a vibrant and novel book that steps out of the old box and into the bright sunlight where no boxes exist.
"Happy is the house that shelters a friend." -RWE
Kids reading this may not know who Emerson was, they may not care. But I don't think that is why this book was written. The end page doesn't teach kids how to write, or what poetry is all about, or give a single fact on Emerson's birth, death or shirt size. Rather, it suggests they keep a journal to get to know themselves, that they get to know their city or town by exploring and creating a map, and that they get to know their community by joining an organization that takes action.
When Emerson was an older man, a tragic fire struck his home. His friends and neighbors leapt to help at a moment's notice. He was stricken with suffering, but they stood tall and supported him through it. Yet, it is not just to our friends that we must be supportive. I think the point of this simple picture book and what Emerson would have wanted was one in the same: we must build a sense of community in whatever place we call home; we ought to know our neighbors; we must give more than we receive; we must not shut our doors in fear to those we don't know or understand. I think Emerson would have wanted us to simply be kind. For in doing so, the world opens.
"Every spirit builds itself a house, and beyond its house a world... Build therefore your own world." -RWE