The House By the Lake
About the author
Thomas Harding is a journalist and nonfiction writer. His adult works include the bestselling Hans and Rudolf: The German Jew and the Hunt for Kommandant of Auschwitz. His adult book The House by the Lake was published in 2015 and tells how he uncovered the history of a Lake House owned by his family. His adult writing provides interesting background information for teachers.
About the illustrator
Britta Teckentrup was born in Hamburg in Germany, growing up in a town called Wuppertal. She lived in a house opposite a forest and remembers playing outside a lot with her friends. In fact, she lived close to the actual house on the lake in this story. She read a lot as a child and used to draw pictures based on the characters in those stories.
About the book
The House by the Lake is a factual narrative based on the author’s experience and adult nonfiction book of the same name. It tells the story of one house through time starting just before the Second World War through to the present day. The narrative employs a traditional storytelling voice, reminiscent of a fairy tale, ‘A long time ago, there was a little wooden house by a lake.’ The author’s note and historical notes to place the story in a specific time and place.
The painterly illustrations add symbolic depth using light and dark, seasonal changes to emphasise mood and the changing fortunes of the house.
The House by the Lake is a book that can be read and appreciated by a wide age range. Some groups might prefer to focus on the narrative and the hopeful theme of reconciliation, others will be interested in the historical context. Reading the book in January will allow you to make connections with Holocaust Memorial Day which takes place on the 27th January and has the theme. ‘Be the Light in the Darkness’, a theme that ties in well with the aims of the Alexander Haus project (see weblink)
Before the session
You will find it useful to have a globe or selection of maps to locate Berlin and Germany.
- Globe will help locate Europe in a world context
- A Political map will help the children locate modern Germany
- Maps of Germany before and during the partition of Germany also showing the partition of Berlin will help the children understand how communities were separated by the building of the Berlin Wall
Before sharing the book (do not display the cover)
A title of a book can evoke many ideas and images. Simply titled, The House by the Lake, tells the reader from the outset that the house is going to be an important element in the story, and indeed it is the one consistent character from the beginning to the end of the narrative. All of the other characters come and go, leaving just memories behind.
Lake is an evocative word. For most of us, it will immediately conjure a sense of calm, peace and associations with nature.
Start by simply displaying the words of the title:
Invite the children to tell you what they imagine when they read these words. Allow time for them to offer their ideas and provide prompts if needed:
- What sort of house might you find by a lake?
- Who might live there?
- what other things would expect to find growing or living by the lakeside?
Use this opportunity to help the children to draw upon their prior knowledge and experience and to use their imaginations. For some children this might be a remote experience, in which case, you might introduce this image to support their thinking.
(See image file in resources below)
Next, take the children on a guided visualisation. Use ambient lake sound playing quietly in the background. You can use the Youtube clip below just for the sound or a clip of your choice.
Ask the children to close their eyes, or simply gaze into space. Explain that you are going to ask them to imagine a place in their ‘mond’s-eye’, as if they were actually there. Then start to speak. You might want to use this script or your own words:
- You are standing by the edge of a lake with your feet in cool water. It’s a hot sunny day – imagine the very best day of the summer holidays.
- What does it feel like paddling in the water?
- What does the sun feel like on your skin?
- You walk to the pebbly shore through the shallow water and it laps around your ankles. What do those peoples feel like under your feet?
- You turn and look back across the lake. Sunlight plays on the surface of the water.
- What can you see?
- What does the sky look like today?
- You can hear the sound of water lapping at the shore.
- What does it sound like?
- Can you hear any other sounds? Insects? Birds? Other animals?
- You notice a small group of people by the lake. What are they doing?
- You live close by and you come to this lake often. What do you enjoy doing at the lake? Do you come here with family, friends or alone?
- The sun is beginning to set and it is time to return home. You walk along the path to the lake house where you live. You approach the house and push open the door. You go into the kitchen and see one of the members of your family.
Allow a few seconds of quiet with just the ambient music playing. Then in pairs, invite the children to tell each other about their ‘day at the lake’. Or you could do this as a group if you prefer.
Explain that you are going to be reading a story about a house by a lake and that it is a true story. It is set by a lake in Berlin, which is in Germany.
Allow some time to explore what the children already know about Germany and Berlin. Spend time finding Germany and Berlin on maps and their location in relation to Britain.
Use the Circle Map (David Hyerle, 2011) to make a collective record of what the group already knows about Germany. Record their knowledge in the circle and sources they are aware of in the rectangle (frame of reference). Keep the map to return to after you have read the book when you will be able to add anything new that has been learnt.
First Encounter with the book
Distribute copies of the book and read the story aloud to the group simply for their enjoyment.
Stop before reading the historic notes, you will come to these later. The story does not explain the history and it’s best to allow an emotional response to the changing fortunes of the house, to the dramatic tension before moving too quickly to study the historical background. Some children may make these connections but don’t force them.
Take a few first impressions from the group and then collect the books. There will be time for more close looking next time.
Start by asking the group what they remember about the new book, House is by the Lake.
Distribute copies of the book and allow the children to reread individually, in Paris or small groups allowing plenty of time for them to look at the illustrations.
Gather the class and use the What Do You Think? grid (adapted from Aidan Chambers, 1993). working individually or in pairs ask the children to jot down their responses to the book, using the grid to help them organise their ideas. Offer some prompts to support them if needed
Likes and dislikes: these can be about things that happen in the story or they could be about the way the story is written or illustrated. Perhaps there is a page that you particularly liked or words/phrases that you enjoyed?
Connections: did this story remind you of anything? Perhaps it reminded you of another story or something that you have heard about on the news. Maybe it reminded you of somewhere that you have lived or visited?
Puzzles: was there anything that you that puzzled, surprised or confused you?
Questions They may want to record questions or leave this blank for later. It’s more important to encourage genuine questions rather than filling in the box for its own sake.
Allow time for the children to record their personal responses using the grid and then organise a small group discussion. You may want to split into small groups of about 3 or 4
Each child in the group shares their first responses, using their grids to support them. Explain that when a child is speaking the other children should listen with interest but not interrupt or ask questions. This gives each child the time and space to offer their own thoughts without interruption and for extended speaking (In most classroom interactions, children have infrequent opportunities to speak at length, so this format develops this skill).
When everyone has shared their ideas. Explain that they are going to revisit the book, starting with the cover. They can talk about whatever interests them, for as long or as little as they like. Some guidance will enable the group to explore more deeply.
- Work from the beginning of the book page by page rather than dipping in.
- Read the page aloud before you start discussing.
- Think about the words as well as the pictures
- Everyone needs to keep to the same page and agree when to move on to the next page so that attention is not split or diffused.
Now that the children have been able to explore the book in some detail, they are likely to have questions.
- When you had finished reading did you have any unanswered questions?
- What would you most like to know?
- Is there anything that you would like to ask the writer or the illustrator?
Record the children’s questions. Then ask:
Are there any questions that we can already answer as a group?
Are there any questions we might try to find the answers to at home? How could we find these answers? Would we need someone to help us?
Teacher’s note: Be aware of the advice that you will want to give to prevent children from researching something that is going to be age-inappropriate or upsetting.
The House is a Witness
Reread the story from ‘A long time ago there was a little wooden house by a lake’ to ‘This was a happy house.’ Write the last sentence on the board or displayed on a flipchart or piece of paper. ‘This was a happy house.’.
Organise the children in pairs and ask each pair to work on one of the double-page spreads. What evidence can you find evidence in the words and the pictures to back up the statement.
Offer some prompts to guide the discussion:
- Are there any words or phrases that make this sound like a happy house?
- Is there anything happening in the pictures you think suggests this is a happy house?
- What clues are there to show the people are happy?
- How do the pictures make you feel?
Share thoughts. If needed, use further prompts to encourage closer looking:
- How are the people standing? (body language)
- Where are they looking? (gaze)
- Can you see the expressions on their faces? If you can’t, can you imagine the expressions?
- How do the colours in this picture make you feel?
- Did you notice the sun and the moon shining in every picture? What effect does that have?
- Do you notice anything about how the lake is depicted in each picture? (This question is intended to guide them to look at the light on water but they may not mention this. Rather than questioning too heavily, you might say ‘I noticed that the light catches on the surface of the water in these images. Can you see how the illustrator Britta Teckentrup has achieved that effect? I wonder if she did this for a reason. What do you think?
- Have you noticed the open door? What’s happening here? Would it have felt different if the door was closed?
- What time of year is it in each of the pictures?
- Which of the pictures on these spreads makes you feel most happy?
- Can you say why?
Reread the page, ‘But as the years passed and the children grew taller, something was changing in the busy city.’
This page contrasts heavily with what has gone before. It ends with, ‘The house was now alone.’
- What are the differences?
Use a table to record the group’s thoughts.
Develop the discussion by focussing attention on some of the following:
- Which verbs are used that make this spread feel unfriendly (possible suggestions, banged, closed, locked)? Make the point that these words sound unfriendly because of the hard sounds.
- There’s another open door in this picture, how does it compare to the previous picture of the open door ? (Depending on what the children suggest, you might make the point that the doorway is blocked by the soldiers preventing free entry and exit.)
- How do the colours compare to the previous pictures?
- What do you notice about the way people are standing? How are they relating to each other?
Model speculative thinking as well as asking questions. For instance, ‘I wonder why Britta Teckentrup decided to include birds in the snowy picture? Birds always make me think of freedom perhaps this is a reflection of what the people in the picture want, or maybe they are fleeing like the Doctor and his family.’
The House is Restored
Reread the final section of this story to the end. Invite personal responses to this section.
- How do you feel about this part of the story?
Look at the double-page spread with the young man entering the house. Remain silent and encourage the children to say what they are thinking using only your gesture and facial expression. They will be bemused at first. If they remain silent, use a prompt to encourage them to talk:
- How does this page show us that many years have passed (draw attention to the different wallpapers peeling on the wall)? Perhaps the children have seen something similar when their homes have been decorated.
- Have we seen this door before? How does this image of the open door compare to the earlier picture? (The children might notice that this picture is lighter and that the man looks directly at the reader rather than averting his gaze)
Does the Story Have a Message?
The children might not be aware that nonfiction texts can convey messages other than broadening our knowledge and providing information. Nonfiction writers have intentions, as do the writers of fiction. But does this story of The House by the Lake have a message that we can take away?
Distribute the following statements. Read them together and clarify the meaning of the more complex ones.
Working in pairs or small groups, ask the children to consider which of these applies to the story of The House by the Lake.
Gather the class:
- Which of these messages do you think is most strongly conveyed in the story?
- Do you think there is another message that we haven’t mentioned?
Choose an image of an abandoned building or use the one we have included with the resources
As before, try remaining silent and just see what the children say. If they are not used to this, it is likely that they will be perplexed at first, but encourages the children to rely on their own resources if you can get the conversation going without the need to ask interrogative questions. You can signal that you are inviting them to speak with a simple hand gesture or facial expression. If the initial silence is uncomfortable try to bear with it for a little while but if nothing is forthcoming or the children falter, offer a speculative question.
I wonder who lived here…
Write down ideas as the children suggest them. You might want to photocopy the ideas for pairs to cut up and reorder later.
Offer supplementary prompts as needed:
- What can you see?
- what words describe the walls, floor, the view from the window etc.?
- What happened here?
- Why do you think this house was abandoned?
- Do you think someone rescues this house? Who might that be?
- Who restored it? What did it look like after it was restored?
Follow the children’s ideas with further prompts as needed. After a little while, review the notes and say, I think we could write a poem with these ideas
You can either write a group poem or distribute copies of the notes you have made for the children to cut up and re-order
For the mini-challenge this month, send us your class poem based on the abandoned house. Please submit the image that you used as inspiration for your poem. As always, just one submission per school. If you have more than one poem, have a school challenge to choose the poem that you will submit.
If you liked this book, you might enjoy…
House Held Up by Trees
A House That Once Was
Reading Gladiators at home
Download or print the The House By the Lake home learning guide.