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!!!
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