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The House by the Lake

The True Story of a House, Its History, and the Four Families Who Made It Home

Thomas Harding, Britta Teckentrup (Illustrator)


List Price: 17.99*
* Individual store prices may vary.


History comes home in a deeply moving, exquisitely illustrated tale of a small house, taken by the Nazis, that harbors a succession of families—and becomes a quiet witness to a tumultuous century.

The days went around like a wheel.
The sun rose, warming the walls of the house.

On the outskirts of Berlin, Germany, a wooden cottage stands on the shore of a lake. Over the course of a hundred years, this little house played host to a kind Jewish doctor and his family, a successful Nazi composer, wartime refugees, and a secret-police informant. During that time, as a world war came and went and the Berlin Wall arose just a stone’s throw from the back door, the house filled up with myriad everyday moments. And when that time was over, and the dwelling was empty and derelict, the great-grandson of the man who built the house felt compelled to bring it back to life and listen to the story it had to tell. Illuminated by Britta Teckentrup’s magnificent illustrations, Thomas Harding’s narration reads like a haunting fairy tale—a lyrical picture-book rendering of the story he first shared in an acclaimed personal history for adult readers.

Praise For The House by the Lake: The True Story of a House, Its History, and the Four Families Who Made It Home

Ethereal collages by Teckentrup (My Little Book of Big Questions) capture the house’s clean lines; the light-filled summer foliage around it; and the grim, gray tones of war. Younger readers unfamiliar with the history of WWII and 20th-century Germany can meet them here at a safe, albeit uncontextualized, distance.
—Publishers Weekly

In this picture book rendition of Harding’s 2015 adult memoir, a house near Berlin, built in the twentieth century, becomes home to four families over the years...the house setting that brings them together is an interesting and useful lens for learning more about the day-to-day lives of people from this historical era, and this title could be an interesting partner to Karas’ As an Oak Tree Grows (12/14).
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Teckentrup’s evocative textured and layered mixed-media illustrations beautifully reflect the bucolic setting in times of both familial repose and, chillingly, unthinkable evil.
—The Horn Book

Candlewick Studio, 9781536212747, 48pp.

Publication Date: September 8, 2020

About the Author

Thomas Harding is an author and journalist who has written for the Financial Times, The Sunday Times (London), the Washington Post, and the Guardian, among other publications. He cofounded a television station in Oxford, England, and for many years was an award-winning documentary maker. He also ran a local newspaper in West Virginia before moving back to England, where he lives with his family.

Britta Teckentrup's strikingly beautiful picture books have been published in more than twenty countries, and her work has been short-listed for the Kate Greenaway Medal. Her books with Candlewick include Fish Everywhere, Where’s the Baby?, One Is Not a Pair, and Don’t Wake Up the Tiger. Born in Hamburg, she now lives with her family in Berlin, Germany.

Conversation Starters from

1. After you’ve read the book, look at the cover again. What information does it convey? Which parts of the book does it represent? What is your emotional reaction to the fi gures of people, how they look, and what they’re doing? Discuss the tone of the illustration and the choice to use it for the cover.

2. Before the title page, readers see a photograph of the house, indicating that the story is based on a real house and real life. What impact does knowing that have on you? Would you feel different about the story if you thought it was fictional? How do the illustrations surrounding the photo give you a preview of the book?

3. Who is the author? Why did he write this story? What do you learn about him in the paragraphs before the title page? When did you realize that he was the young man in the final pages of the narrative? What else do you learn about him in the notes at the back?

4. Discuss the families that lived in the house and compare their time there. Why did each family arrive? Why did they leave? Which of them had happy experiences at the house, and what made the experiences happy? What made certain experiences unhappy? Consider the house as if it were a character. How do you think it felt about the diff erent families and other people in the story?

5. Compare the children in the illustrations in terms of what they are wearing, their activities, and their emotions. How much can you tell about them? Do you see changes over the years in how they look that reflect changes in society?

6. The narrative uses words and images that appeal to the senses to help bring the story to life. Go through the text and identify some of this language. What can you hear or smell or feel based on the words? What are some visual images that paint vivid pictures in your mind?

7. The book covers a long span of time. What are some of the phrases and transitions that convey the passage of time? What are some references to seasons, and how are they depicted in the pictures? How does the appearance of the house change over time?

8. Notice the variety in illustrations. Talk about where the words are printed on the pages and how that differs throughout the book. Find examples where one picture spans two pages and others where there are several pictures on a page. Why do you think the design of the book varies so much? Does the design of each page affect the pace of the story? Read some pages aloud to see.

9. Talk about how the illustrations vary in color and emotional content. How do the dark pages make you feel? How about the pictures with brighter colors? Or lots of gray? What do you think the people are feeling in different pictures? Do you think the illustrations go well with the story? Why?

10. Take a close look at the illustrations and find as many animals as you can. Make a list of those you find and compare it to your classmates’ lists.

11. The book shows the effects on the house of different historic events: the rise of Nazism, World War II, and the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall. Find each of the events in the book. Talk about how the event is conveyed in text and pictures and about the impact of the event on the house and people.

12. How do you think the families in the book felt when they had to leave the house for good? Millions of families in the world today are refugees who have had to leave their homes and countries or who have been displaced within their countries by war or other dangers. How do you think these refugees might feel about leaving? How would you feel if you had to leave your home and perhaps never return? What would you take with you? What would you miss the most?