Snow of the literary variety
Now that we've had our first measurable snowfall in the Chicago area (okay, it wasn't very much), my thoughts again turn to books that celebrate the white stuff. Some classics for children (and the adults who love them):
Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. This lovely picture book won the Caldecott Award in 1999. It tells the story of Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley, a simple farmer in Vermont, who was fascinated by snow. When he receives the gift of a microscope from his mother, he begins a lifelong study of snow crystals. With the eyes of both a scientist and a poet, he is determined to share his discoveries, as well as the beauty of snow crystals with others, by capturing them in photographs. The illustrations in this book are wondrous woodcuts by Mary Azarian and they fit perfectly with the lyrical text.
Another favorite of mine is The Snowy Day by Jack Ezra Keats. It also won the Caldecott Medal, way back in 1963. It's the simple story of a boy named Peter savoring the joys of a snowy day. I love it because, having grown up in a city, I can relate to the urban environment through which Peter wanders in his red snowsuit, dragging his stick. The illustrations capture the waning sunlight of late afternoons in December and the lavender skies that hang low after the sun has dipped below the horizon. First published in 1962, this now-classic book also broke the color barrier in mainstream children's publishing. I remember as a child thinking it was wonderful to see a child in a book who was the same color as many of my own friends.
And we can't forget The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. In this chilly fairy tale, an imp creates an evil mirror in which beauty is made ugly. The mirror shatters and the pieces scatter and cause evil throughout the world. Kai and Gerta are playmates. Kai is struck in the eye by a fragment of the mirror and overnight
changes and alarms Gerta. He is attracted to and carried off by the evil Snow Queen and taken to her frozen palace. In the spirit of true friendship, Gerta sets off on a quest to find him and has many adventures along the way. One of my favorite versions of this story is illustrated by Vladyslav Yerko.
I would be remiss to not mention the lovely work of C.S. Lewis: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Four siblings — Peter, Susan, Edmund,
and Lucy — to be sent away from London during WWII to live in the country with the kind-hearted but remote Professor. The children will soon discover that the Professor's mansion holds many mysteries, including a room which holds nothing but a large wardrobe. When Lucy, the youngest, opens it one rainy day, they discover a passageway into Narnia, a once peaceful world inhabited by Fauns, Dwarves, Giants, and Talking Beasts. But now Narnia is a place "where it is always winter, but never Christmas" by the evil, but seductive White Witch who rules over it. The children become entangled in an adventure that encompasses betrayal, forgiveness, death, and rebirth. I never actually read this as a child. I only discovered it through my own children -- and spent many happy evenings reading it aloud to them at bedtime. Imagine a place where it is perpetual winter, without the joys of the holidays to brighten the darkness. Brrrrrrrrrrrr!!!
The White Stuff
So you think you know everything there is to know about snowflakes? Well, heat up some cocoa, nestle down in your favorite easy chair and get ready to learn more -- maybe even everything you always wanted to know about the flakes from above but were too busy catching them on your tongue to ask. By the end of The Story of Snow by Mark Cassino, you'll be wishing for a blizzard so you can follow the instructions he provides for catching and viewing snow crystals.
Ever wonder just how snow crystals form? And what shapes they can take? Is it really true that no two snow crystals are alike? Cassino answers these questions and more in this visually stunning exploration of the science of snow. It's the perfect short read for winter days, with fabulous photos of real snow crystals in all their wondrous diversity.
Now that we have given Thanksgiving its due place in the holiday pantheon, we can begin to celebrate the season of lights... as well as snow, frostbite, ice and their remedies, hot chocolate. Winter, in those areas of the world that actually experience all four seasons, can be gorgeous and brutal, exhilirating and debilitating, all within the space of a few minutes. But it has also sparked some of the finest fiction bound between two covers. So grab a cup of cocoa, wrap a throw around your shoulders and keep warm with these chilly scenes of winter:
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson is a novel that has been praised for its eloquent dramatization of themes of love, racism, justice and community. It wraps a suspenseful story of a murder trial with a beautiful evocation of lost love, and brooding, poetic descriptions of place and character. It is a blend of courtroom drama and romance that takes place in a small town in Washington. Set in 1954, the novel examines the dynamics of the fictitious community of San Piedro Island after World War II and the aftermath of the Japanese-American internment in that era.
The Golden Compass (originally published in England as Northern Lights) by Philip Pullman is usually designated a young-adult book, but don't let that fool you. It's not just for tweens and teens. It's the first novel in Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and it's a wonderous fantasy set in a world that parallels our own, but with magical twists and thoughtful, thought-provoking turns. The novel tells the story of a young girl named Lyra Belacqua who, it turns out, is destined to save the world. Lyra, like the heroes of many children's novels, grows up more or less an orphan, yet lives happily among the scholars of Jordan College in Oxford until her best friend Roger is kidnapped. His disappearance, along with other strange occurrences, sets off a course of events that leads her (with a band of gypsies) into the coldest and darkest part of the earth, the North. You will feel the hostile wind biting your cheeks as you read this book, which manages to be a page-turning thriller AND a philosophical meditation at once.
And that's just a start for your winter's reading... next up, holiday stories!
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