I am so excited to be on the Blog Tour for ‘The Dream House’ by Laura Dockrill. Further below my review, you will find a Q & A with the author herself, about the inspiration for the book and why embracing topics such as grief within children’s literature are so important.
The Dream House is a place where Rex can go to just be. Or think. Or play. It’s a special place all of his own. However, since he last set foot inside, there have been some big changes to his life. Rex has lost his dad and he’s worried it’s his ghost he will find when he finally goes back into the House. However, he’ll be surprised what magic and surprises are in store for him when he returns…
This is a fantastically written book which really embraces themes which are often not seen frequently within children’s books or, if they are, aren’t delved into in a way which helps children begin to understand or access them.
1) Grief is a topic which is often not explored fully in children’s books. Why did you choose to centre a story around this?
Because of that very reason. I used to (and naively) think that being a children’s writer meant writing funny, happy books because that was what children wanted to read. It wasn’t until after my own challenging personal life experience – that I questioned my own work. I suppose I felt a responsibility to my younger self to not just create more silence, stigma and shame around big themes. I wanted to tread into these spaces head-on and help bring conversation. Throwing those heavy, often taboo subjects into the light. Pretending these themes don’t exist isn’t going to make the pain go away.
2) How do books help children cope with experiences such as this?
I really hope The Dream House can help a young person. When I was in recovery, I really relied on books about the human experience and condition to get me through. From grief to addiction to change. Anything written from the first person perspective of someone who has survived something difficult. Listening is so important, we are always told to listen but sharing is so important, too. Hearing a true, real life lived account about survival can be empowering. I think the real message here is about creating those safe spaces, empathy and trust. A book is a perfect form to find a friend inside the pages of, to reflect and open a door in your heart.
3) I love the language and vocabulary used throughout. How did you want this to impact on the reader?
That’s so lovely, thank you. I actually wrote the first draft for the stage, so there is a deliberate poetry element running through the text. I was attempting to use language to illustrate those feelings that we often find so challenging to put into words. Having words to describe what you’re going through is so valuable, especially when going through something that words just can’t always grasp. Grief, mental health- these are not facts. It’s about getting across a feeling. Having Rex’s sketchbook as a device really helped, as it enabled me to be scrappy with the language and get lots of loose Ideas down in different forms- diary entry, prose, poetry. I think, again, it’s about holding space for these emotions and treating them with respect. Gwen has really made those ideas come to life with her illustrations.
4) What is your favourite thing about Rex as a character?
Ooooo, erm, I suppose his cynical humour – that was fun to write and the way he still tries to be grumpy even though he doesn’t want to be. And that’s really it- light and shade. Sinking into an emotion. But as a character, it was important to me that he felt he could be how he wanted and that, as a writer, I wanted him to be true to his feelings and the emotions he was experiencing. Not putting on a show for anybody. Not having to put a smile on or be happy, happy, happy. Just being himself. Taking his time.
5) What was the inspiration for the Dream House within the story?
There are many inspirations behind The Dream House, firstly the dream house itself is real. It’s a beautiful little shed/hut built at the bottom of my Godfather’s garden (he doesn’t have any kids himself, so this was for us!). It really was exactly like in the story. It’s actually still standing. We grew up in south London, in Brixton, where it was super-congested and busy and we only had a tincy garden, so this environment was just utterly magical and wild to us. Sparky is based on my actual Godfather – who really is an electrician, too! I always knew I wanted to do something with The Dream House, but I was waiting for the right one to tell. To get a bit deeper, the inspiration behind the story itself was when my dad lost his own father (my pops) and his lifelong best friend at the same time. And what it was like seeing him become a little boy again. Not too long after that, I had my own life hurdle, just as I became a mum for the first time, too! There are many threads which have all come together with this one. The Dream House is all about empathy, it’s a story of friendship really, mental health, loss, love and acceptance. And it’s just so amazing that Gwen has managed to capture the house and those feelings in her illustrations.
Thank you so much Laura for your thoughtful answers! I agree, also, that Gwen’s illustrations really help to bring the book alive. The layout and accessibility of the book make it brilliant for children of any age. It’s definitely one I’ll be keeping in my classroom to help open discussions about some difficult themes.
If you like the sound of this book, buy it here.
📚 Book gifted by publisher.