The plot is simple. The girl's house appears one day, and she settles into her own routine but we soon find herself lonely. She makes a sign, "Julia's House for Lost Creatures," and, almost immediately, creatures start arriving, looking for a place they are welcome, a place to call home. Of course, all of these new people disrupt Julia's routine, but she learns that everyone can have a purpose, a skill, and if you give them an opportunity to use it, everyone can be happy and the routine will still happen. While this seems simple enough as a plot, these are complicated social concepts to convey in a children's book. Hatke explore's sharing, the individual's role in society, the concept of being different, homelessness, and socialism, or at least a playful look at social structure. All of this without being overt, preachy, and losing the magical, imaginative quality that will allow children to follow along with these concepts. While these concepts might seem "adult," who better than children to understand feeling different or left out? Patched Up Kitty, the kitty made with patches, could be a hero to a child that is struggling with feeling different from their peers who they see as "whole" children. Simple, sweet, and relatable, Julia's House for Lost Creatures can make an impact for a child's life present or future.
The imagery throughout the book is very soft. The colors are muted and the edges blended with the bleeding of watercolors. It's as if you have seen these creatures before . . . and yet you have not, of course, as they are all new, but there is an odd familiarity about the world Hatke creates. Goblins from The Labyrinth, Trolls from Where the Wild Things Are, the Moon for Goodnight Moon, a Dragon from The Neverending Story. These were the creatures I saw when I opened the book, the ones from my own childhood. I saw flashes of them throughout the book, if only in spirit. It is a special artist that can evoke your visual memory.
While I do appreciate the simplicity, I feel the ending was a tad abrupt and could have used some indulgence. There need not be a great deal, but allowing the reader to enjoy the final moment and what it means for the house in another image or two would be helpful. The final image with Julia and the creatures sleeping while the mini robots struggle with tools as big as them is adorable and hilarious, and I would have loved to have seen a few more of these moments. That being said, it is such minute critique. Ben Hatke's Julia's House for Lost Creatures is both an educational and visual splendor.