It is a ritual with many moving parts. So it is rare, and so it is magic.
This story takes place in the north. Could be Canada, or Minnesota, or New York. All that matters is that it is north, where the cold bites, which is one of the prerequisites. “When you walk in the woods, the leaves shatter under your feet like glass.” Bone-cracking cold keeps the wind down and closes the ice crystals tight on the beaver pond. A small, diverse company of kids is anxious to get on the ice. Things could go wrong—a sudden warming, rain, a wet snow—but even during the daytime, James keeps the artwork feeling cold with images that feel as though they have been carved from ice-covered scratchboard. Finally, the full moon rises. “We walk between ridges, through dense tamarack swamp…and up a high hill. In the distance we see the wide, snowy flat of the beaver flood,” which they arrive at just as night falls. “Our wet pants freeze solid...we walk clanking like knights in armor.” They make a fire, warm their toes, and get on with some deep-woods pond hockey on perfect ice. The illustrations, with their burnished waning light, and the clipped-short narrative combine to create an atmosphere that for anyone who has experienced it will feel pitch-perfect.
The game of shinny, which never grows old. (Picture book. 4-8)