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A House Without Mirrors

A House Without Mirrors

by Marten Sanden, Karin Altenberg, Moa Schulman

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A moving ghost story that explores the overcoming of loss, and how to move on

Thomasine has spent months living in her great-great-aunt's dusty, dark house with her father, and her aunt, uncle and cousins. While her father's siblings bicker about how much the house must be worth, her distant, elderly aunt is upstairs, dying, and her father has


A moving ghost story that explores the overcoming of loss, and how to move on

Thomasine has spent months living in her great-great-aunt's dusty, dark house with her father, and her aunt, uncle and cousins. While her father's siblings bicker about how much the house must be worth, her distant, elderly aunt is upstairs, dying, and her father has disappeared inside himself, still mourning the death of Thomasine's little brother.

But one day, her youngest cousin makes a discovery: a wardrobe, filled with all the mirrors missing from the big house. And through the mirrors, a different world - one in which you can find not what you most wish for, but perhaps what you most need... A beautiful tale of love, grief and growing up, A House Without Mirrors is an unforgettable adventure into families and the power of love.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Somber yet hopeful. . . Schulman’s black-and-white illustrations capture the haunting sense of mystery." Donna Scanlon, Booklist

"[The] reader will be completely absorbed, and comforted by the hopeful ending. . . The writing is beautiful and the story stays with you." —  Renée Wheeler, Leominster Public Library, for Youth Services Book Review

"A House Without Mirrors is perhaps one of the most beautiful books I have read this year. . . The translation is well done and manages to bring across the poignancy of the novel. . . The book presents a wonderful opportunity to learn about different cultures and different ways of thinking and being. But at the same time, it also unites people through the emotions that are common to all." -- The Book Wars

"A classic story that has it all." -- Dagens Nyheter

School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Twelve-year-old Thomasine and her family have taken up an unwilling vigil in the dark, silent, and nearly empty home of her great-great-aunt Henrietta. As the days pass slowly by, the adults bicker and the children roam the house endlessly, while they wait for Henrietta to pass away. But when the youngest cousin finds a locked cabinet filled with all the mirrors that are missing from the house, Thomasine and her family are transported to a miraculous place, a world where they may confront their fears and sadness and regain the happiness they've lost. Thomasine and her family are all deeply and richly realized characters. While they are physically present in the sprawling house, there is a vast distance among them, and their loneliness and sorrow permeate the story. The prose is delicate and deftly conveys complicated emotions, and the black-and-white illustrations in each chapter add welcome, surreal imagery to the tale. Grief is portrayed with simple and touching accuracy. The magical elements are not fully explained, they do help the characters grow and change for the better. VERDICT A worthy purchase for medium and large collections.—Laken Hottle, Providence Community Library
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2017-01-17
Family dysfunction receives mystical resolution in this Swedish import by Astrid Lindgren winner Sandén.Thomasine finds herself living in the enormous house of her dying great-great-aunt Henrietta with her depressed and grieving father, her awkward academic uncle and his children, Signe and Erland, and her angry aunt and her daughter, Wilma (the oldest of the cousins). The children sense the palpable tension among the adults over Henrietta's pending death, but when silent, 5-year-old Signe returns from a wardrobe during a game of hide-and-seek and talks about a girl she met in it, Thomasine finds this hard to believe. But as each of the cousins visits the wardrobe, it positively transforms them, and although Thomasine doesn't realize it until nearly the end of the novel, these wardrobe visits also connect them with their family history. While emphasizing death as an essential part of life, this story places children at the center of the emotional healing process for the adults, which at times means that the child must tell the adult to be quiet, listen, and pay attention. Both macabre and hopeful, this Swedish gothic, with Schulman's wispy illustrations depicting the characters as white and adding to its mystery, will remind readers of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Coraline, and perhaps other fantasies in which a quotidian household object becomes a portal into another world. A thought-provoking read that will linger long after the last page. (Fantasy. 9-12)

Product Details

Steerforth Press
Publication date:
Sold by:
Penguin Random House Publisher Services
File size:
4 MB
Age Range:
7 - 9 Years

Read an Excerpt

"One hundred! Ready or not, here I come!" The echo of my cry bounced around the hall in Henrietta’s house for a moment before dying out. As silence returned I could hear the creaking of the parquet floors upstairs. It was my cousins looking for places to hide.?We played hide-and-seek nearly every day, but I rarely got to be the seeker. Both Wilma and Erland said that it wouldn’t be fair, as I could find my way around Henrietta’s house so much better than they could. I suppose they were right, as Dad always let me tag along when he was looking after Henrietta, but it’s still not much fun when you hardly ever get to be the seeker.

And, besides, you’d have expected my cousins to know their way around by then. Wilma and her mum, Dad’s sister Kajsa, had arrived over three weeks before, and Erland and Signe had been here since school broke up. Their dad, Uncle Daniel, worked at the university, so he had the summers off.

But no one had been at Henrietta’s house as long as me and Dad. Apart from Henrietta herself, of course.

The afternoon light fell through the stained-glass mosaic in the window up above the stairs and seeped out in pale-coloured stains across the floor in the hall. The floor was black and white, like a chessboard, and sometimes I remembered playing a sort of pretend chess there when I was little. I remembered the feeling very clearly, and I remembered that somebody else was there with me. Henrietta, perhaps, in the days when she could still walk on her own.

I quickly searched the ground floor. There weren’t that many places to hide, as Henrietta had sold or given away most of her furniture since she’d been living here alone. Dad says that she’d been preparing for death for a long time.

Many of the rooms were completely empty now; just some junk against the walls, or a cupboard too heavy to be moved. When you’re playing hide-and-seek, that emptiness is good for the seeker and bad for the hiders.

I slunk through the dining room, the parlours and lounges and the corner room, which was called the Office, and continued towards the conservatory, which was a large, glassed-in room at the back of the house.

There was no one there, and no one in the kitchen or the pantry either. Not even Signe, my youngest cousin. Signe usually hid close to the kitchen because she was a little afraid of the dark.

On the great stairs leading up to the first floor and the drawing rooms, I stopped and listened. The creaking had stopped; they had probably all found places to hide. They could be anywhere.

Dad said that he hardly knew how many rooms there were in Henrietta’s house, but that was just him talking. He knew as well as I did that there were nineteen. Twenty with the conservatory. Ten of the rooms were bedrooms—if you counted the two tiny ones behind the kitchen that used to be the cook’s room and the maid’s room, when Henrietta and my great- grandfather were kids nearly a hundred years ago.

I had barely started looking through the drawing rooms when I saw somebody standing on the stairs leading up to the second floor. At first I thought it was Erland lurking there in the shadows on the landing with his arms hanging down beside him. But luckily it wasn’t. It was Signe, Erland’s little sister.

"What’s up, Signe?" I asked. "Can’t you find a place to hide?"

Signe shook her head. She looked frightened. Both Erland and Uncle Daniel treated Signe as if she were a dimwit, just because she never said anything. She wasn’t. She just didn’t like talking.

I went up to the landing where Signe was standing and reached out my hand towards her.

"Come," I said. "I’ll help you."

Signe took my hand and together we climbed the stairs towards the bedrooms. When we reached the dark corridor leading to my room, I could feel Signe’s hand tightening around mine. I squeezed her hand back.

Meet the Author

Mårten Sandén was born in Stockholm in 1962 and spent most of his childhood in the university town of Lund, in southern Sweden. He has been writing, in one way or another, more or less full-time since his early twenties.

Starting out as a professional songwriter for music publishers in Europe and the US, Sanden began writing children's books in the mid-1990s. The Petrini Detectives, a series of mysteries for Middle Readers, was launched in 1999. Since then, he has written around thirty more children's books, ranging from picture books to novels for Young Adults. His work has been translated into Danish, German, Russian and English.

Marten Sanden is a member of The Swedish Academy of Children's Book Writers and The Swedish Crime Writers' Academy.

He lives in Stockholm with his wife and daughter.

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