Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

I was utterly swept away by this story of a couple trying to eke out an existence in the beautifully described wilds of 1920s Alaska. Their homesteaders’ life is intricately drawn and touchingly real. Jack spends his days trying to clear stumps from their meager fields while Mabel bakes pies to sell and tries to keep house. They have passed the age of being able to have children, and that childlessness haunts Mabel. As a crushing winter descends, the reality of their life forces them even further apart. And then one evening they are caught by the beauty of a new snowfall. In a moment of whimsy, they make a snow girl and dress her in a scarf and gloves. The next morning the scarf and gloves are gone, but a child’s footprints are left in the snow. This begins the thread of an old Russian fairy tale that Mabel remembers from childhood. She knows the ending of the tale isn't happy, but she decides that maybe this time things will turn out differently. Jack knows that the child is real, not a fairy. As the seasons march on, the snow child, Faina, brings them closer to each other, their neighbors, and nature itself.
This is a lovely book that I couldn't put down. It perfectly dances between a real, grounded story of homesteaders and an ethereal, almost-fairy tale. It would make a great book club discussion book.

And Then It's Spring by Julie Fogliano and Erin Stead

First you have brown,
all around you have brown
then there are seeds and a wish for rain…

These are the first lines of this wonderful, new children’s picture book. They speak to me so intensely right now - I Am Ready for Spring! But this lovely story reminds me that there is brown and then there is rain and then there is a “hopeful, very possible sort of brown.” That’s the brown we have right now, with the first hints of green. If you know a child itching for a sunny day, or an adult who could use a sweet reminder that there are better days to come (that even brown holds promise!), this is the book for you.
I am also a sucker for a cut-away of underground with roots and burrowing animals and insects. This book has a great one. The illustrator is a previous Caldecott winner.