Thursday, 3 December 2015

This is Our House by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Bob Graham

Michael Rosen’s This Is Our House takes a humorous look at the lack of logic behind reasons for discrimination in a way that even the smallest children can grasp.George, the protagonist of the story, wants to feel special and powerful, so he takes over the cardboard house and makes up reasons to exclude others from it.  He bans them for different but always personal reasons: because they're girls, or too small, or wear glasses, etc. His house is NOT for people that are unlike George. These characteristics comically exaggerate the ways in which children (and adults as well) set up boundaries in distinguishing “us” from “them,” which discourages any acceptance of others' identities.  This can open the door for teachers to talking about bigger real-world issues of discrimination with even very young children.

George's friends do try to get him to open up his house by weaving him into their play: ""We're coming in to fix the fridge,"" announce twins Charlene and Marlene, while Luther sends his toy airplane crashing into the house and tells George that he must rescue it. But George will not budge until, finally, nature calls. Whilst he is gone, they take over the house and turn the tables on George and force him to see the error of his ways. Rosen has an instinctive feel for the way children confront one another, ponder, negotiate and form alliances; every word of the text rings true. 

However, this does cause a slight problem in that the way the children manage to get George to see the error of his ways is through retaliation. While it’s good that Rosen does not show the children fighting or resorting to violence over control of the house, the other children do end up ganging up on George. (Surely not an approach teachers would wish to advocate). While their retaliation's effect on George's change of attitude seems justified in the end, the implicit idea is that if someone discriminates against you, it’s okay to discriminate against them to teach them a lesson. This “eye for an eye” mentality undercuts some of the anti-discrimination ideal that Rosen intends to share with the reader.

Finally, according to Graham's illustrations, the cardboard house is destroyed at the end of the book, which is also problematic. On the last page of the story, the walls of the house have separated and are nearly beaten into the ground. While the text above it proclaims that the house is for everyone, the picture of the house says that once you let everyone inside, the house falls apart. Teachers do need to be aware of this unintentional message because for some children the illustration may convey the idea that it is better to exclude people because when everyone is included, things get destroyed! 

Nevertheless, it is a good book to share with children in early years settings and Key Stage 1 as it does raise important issues in a way that can be accessed and understood by young children. It demonstrates in a 'safe' way the non-sensical way in which people discriminate and offers the opportunity to open up those discussions. 

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