Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, December 20, 2012


From seven o'clock this morning until seven o'clock tomorrow night the National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for fifteen counties in northwestern lower Michigan.  With snow falling in some places to more than a foot, the cold will follow quickly on its heels with the wind cranking up to near blizzard conditions.  While we Michiganders are used to wintry weather, it's been so mild to date, this is going to be a shock.

With the knowledge of an impending storm there is an air of urgency and preparation in the businesses in our small burg.  There is also a sense of anticipation; the anticipation of what this weather will mean for inside and outside activities.  When you combine the talents of author Eileen Spinelli with those of illustrator Marjorie Priceman, a beautiful but chilly book like Cold Snap (Alfred A. Knopf) results, taking a look at another small town caught in Mother Nature's grip.

It was snowy cold in Toby Mills.
Ears tingled.
Cheeks were frosty pink.
Toes, too numb to wiggle.

It begins with piles of snow inviting the inevitable snowball throwing, making of snow angels and sledding down T-Bone Hill.  Exhausted, wet and cold the children are forced to head home as evening approaches.  This is Friday.

By Saturday newspaper headlines feature the weather front and center.  Soup and stew are the local diner's entree of the day.  Being inside is distinctly more appealing.

Even long underwear worn under dresses, earmuffs, scarves and cuddling with the church cat cannot keep the cold from coming inside the church on Sunday.  Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday find the thermometer dipping lower and lower each day.  The icicle which began as a drip on the tip of General Toby's nose is close to touching the ground.

The endeavors of the citizens of Toby Mills have gone from enjoyment to survival, complaints to the mayor's office mounting.  It's his clever wife who hatches a nighttime surprise, gathering the entire town on top of T-Bone Hill.  Young and old alike, all the names readers have come to know, meet and greet each other rejoicing in what they have missed.

Chronicling the days of a week, Friday to Friday plus one, person by person, Eileen Spinelli makes readers feel as though they, too, are members of this close-knit community.  We are privy through her descriptive phrases and word choices (puffballs in the frigid air, slogged through the slushhuddle-cuddled) of the cold getting colder and the townspeople's reactions to this frosty turn of weather events.  Our collective knowledge of cold, what we would be willing to do when faced with similar circumstances, even though Spinelli assigns specific actions to specific people, binds us to this story.  Her technique of measuring the cold by the length of the icicle on the statue's nose paints a picture in our minds.  Not without humor, the mayor's wife brings him his pink bunny slippers and blue bathrobe to wear at the office, we begin to feel a distinct chill in the air.

Beginning with the front jacket, two-time Caldecott Honor award winner, Marjorie Priceman, using gouache on watercolor paper, whips up a batch of icy, snowy, blowy painted pictorial pieces of Toby Mills. The perspective shown to readers when first picking up this book, overlayed with the rough, sandpaper-like feel of pressed shiny snowflakes, leads readers into this winter's tale.  Brightly colored endpapers, the town thick with snow, provide an invitation, a bird's eye view of the place and its people.

A two-page visual extending across the gutter to page edge tucks publication information beneath a snow-covered hill, wind howling as a person walks up and over, snow shovel sticking up behind with the title above.  Throughout most of the book the illustrations, covering two pages, provide readers with a rare richness, color choices pulling them into the story despite the cold.  Single page visuals are faced with a page of smaller pictures text above or below.  Extra details reveal emotion, motion and shivers from the cold that gets colder and colder.  While many of the illustrations are worthy of framing my two favorites are of the children snow-play weary going home at night through the village and of the mayor's office, the Moffat home and the movie theater advertising Long Hot Summer and Little Miss Sunshine with B. Y. O. B. (bring your own blanket).

Cold Snap penned by master wordsmith Eileen Spinelli with vivid illustrations by Marjorie Priceman is a first choice for snow day reading.  Whether you winter in this type of weather or have never seen a single snowflake, there is "snow" doubt you will wonder why you now feel a cool breeze passing.  The blended skills of two masters has created a perfect picture....a book for readers of all ages.

Please follow this link to the publisher's website for more illustrations from this title.

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