Review of Houses with a Story, by Seiji Yoshida

Houses with a Story

A Dragon’s Den, a Ghostly Mansion, a Library of Lost Books, and 30 More Amazing Places to Explore

by Seiji Yoshida
translated by Jan Mitsuko Cash

Amulet Books, 2023. Originally published in Japan in 2020. 124 pages.
Review written February 26, 2024, from a library book.
Starred Review
2024 Mildred L. Batchelder Award Winner

When this book came in to the library we had quite a discussion with the Cataloging department about where it should be shelved. The houses and buildings pictured are clearly imaginary — but they’re given serious treatment. Pictures and diagrams show how they’re built, with details pointed out on each spread. The book doesn’t tell a story, but it suggests a multiplicity of stories. Someone looking for a novel wouldn’t find it in this book, and in size and style it fits much better with nonfiction. And yet all the buildings are fictional. What to do?

And our head cataloger came to the rescue. It turns out there’s a specific call number — 720.22 — for the architecture of imaginary buildings. Perfect!

I had already dipped into it with delight, and then this book won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award, which is given to books originally published in another country in a language other than English. The award is given to the publisher to encourage them to find international gems like this one.

And the book is so much fun! Most of the imaginary buildings are presented along with their inhabitants, and you get hints of their stories and their lifestyles. On one side of each spread is an exterior view of the building in its landscape. The other side shows a cutaway interior view, with an introduction and arrows to details. There’s often a floor plan as well. Some of the places are “Mischievous Bridge Tower Keeper,” “World-Weary Astronomer’s Residence,” “Reserved Mechanic’s Cottage,” “An Eccentric Botanist’s Laboratory,” “Methodical Witch’s House,” and “Forgotten Orphan’s Castle.” Here’s the short introductory text for that last one:

This old castle has watched over the land through several centuries. Following the loss of its original inhabitants, a lord and lady, the castle was left abandoned and became the target of robbers. Rumor has it an orphan has recently taken up residence there. The lord and lady of the castle had a young child who died, so it is also said that the orphan is actually a ghost.

There are more notes at the back about each place, including where and when it’s intended to be, at least if it’s supposed to be in our world at all.

Check out this book and take some time to pore through it. This book can send your imagination flying. Here’s how the author puts it in his Foreword:

You may find houses that feel as though they’ve come straight from certain books you’ve read in the past, while other abodes may be so peculiar that you’ve never encountered anything like them before, even in your own imagination. The tale you weave for each house is entirely up to you, and nothing would give me greater pleasure than you finding yourself immersed in a wonderful story.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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