It may not be winter yet, but the cozy, winter picture books are already on shelves. I’ve two on my mind today, Snow Scene and When the Moon Comes, that make me long to see snowflakes.
I’m really glad that long-time editor Richard Jackson decided to start penning picture books. He has written four thus far (Have a Look, Says Book; In Plain Sight; All Ears, All Eyes; and This Beautiful Day), and each one is well worth your time. So is his newest, Snow Scene, illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.
Jackson is a picture book author who leaves a lot of room for illustrators to work their magic. All Ears, All Eyes, for instance, released earlier this year, is a spare text, and illustrator Katherine Tillotson used the ample space given to her to complete what is a beautiful and atmospheric tale. (I wrote about that book here in May.) Jackson does something similar in Snow Scene.
The book includes short questions about the outdoor world, as if the author is right with you, guiding you through a forest. “What are these?” the book opens. Here, Seeger gives a close-up view of winter trees. You turn the page to see an answer via text (“Trees”), as well as get a view of the trees from further away. “And those?” prompts you to turn the page again, where you see shadows of crows —and are asked, “What now?” Eventually, children appear, a boy and a girl happy to be out in the snow (“Night white”) and seeing creatures in the wild. All of these connections in the natural world are conveyed via short, simple sentences and Seeger’s engrossing art.
You as the reader continue to explore the snowy woods in this way with brief prompts (“Look here!”), as well as more questions (“What then?”). Seeger’s illustrations are rendered via acrylics on canvas, and you can often see the canvas itself peeking through her paints. I love to see this in picture books. It brings an immediacy to the whole affair.
The pace picks up quickly in the end, bringing you to the post-winter world of April, May, and even June. The world blooms in the warm weather, and in the end the children (and their dog) stare at a snow-capped mountain in the distance, “Winter’s hat!”
Delightful. Please keep writing picture books, Mr. Jackson.
Unlike Snow Scene, When the Moon Comes from author Paul Harbridge and illustrator Matt James, both from Toronto, includes a lengthy text. Every word is worth it. It is a wonder, a gorgeous story that captures another wintry moment (up in Canada), this one centered around hockey. In fact, the author opens the book with this quote from Stephen Leacock: “In a land so inescapably and inhospitably cold, hockey is the chance of life, and an affirmation that despite the deathly chill of winter we are alive.” (When’s the last time you saw a picture book open with an epigraph?)
The story kicks off in mild November; the snow has yet to appear. A group of children, hockey pucks in hand, wait patiently for ice to form. But a boy named Arthur suggests that they should also wait for a full moon. When the time comes and it’s even so cold that there is a ring around the moon, they gather at the “magic ice” and build a fire. When they finally glide out on the ice, “it is marvelous ice, as good as any we have known.” The game is on.
Harbridge captures the sights, sounds, and smells of the almost spectral, night-time gathering from a child’s point of view, including details that place you, the reader, right there: “The harsh smoke burns all our eyes in turn, but it is warm and we do not mind.” There is a lyrical flow to his words: “It is dark, dark now, and the face of the sky is freckled with stars.” When the narrator heads home and is snug in bed, he knows the moon wants to pull him back “to that silent slash of silver in the cold, black night.” He stays in his warm bed, thanks very much, but he falls asleep with this vivid, new memory, one that you sense will always stay with him (or her—it could just as easily be a girl, I should note).
Matt James’ illustrations, rendered in acrylics and India ink, are dark and mysterious, just like Canadian nights in winter, and full of energy and movement. His two wordless spreads of the game in action, which is its own sort of wild rumpus, are beautiful—with the wind whipping the trees and the moonlight forming vivid teal shadows on the ice.
Two excellent books—just right for the first cold snap you get. Have your cocoa handy.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
SNOW SCENE. Text copyright © 2017 by Richard Jackson. Illustrations © 2017 by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press, New York.
WHEN THE MOON COMES. Text copyright © 2017 by Paul Harbridge. Illustrations © 2017 by Matt James. Published by Tundra Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the illustrator.