Quote of the Month

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

Monday, October 14, 2013

Flake By Flake

There is nothing like the feeling of anticipation as we await a big event, an event we have experienced before, an event we know will color our world in the best way possible.  Perhaps we travel hundreds, maybe even thousands of miles, to relive a series of unforgettable seconds, minutes, hours or days.  Or maybe all we have to do is walk out the door of our home.

Some say this excitement is heightened for children but if you carry the wonder of childhood in your soul, seeing the world with their eyes, it's the same no matter your age.  When the trees are bare of leaves, temperatures and the barometer dropping, gray clouds gathering overhead in the sky and the date of December 22 is getting closer on the calendar, it's a sure sign snow is eminent.  Jonathan Bean (One Starry Night, Building Our House) fills his readers' hearts with a keen sense of hopefulness in his most recent title, Big Snow (Farrar Straus Giroux).

"Mom," said David, "when will it snow?"

David is entering the kitchen through the back door all bundled up in winter clothing after being outside gazing up and about his yard.  His Mom suggests he help her bake cookies as he waits for the snow which will surely fall soon.  He measures out ingredients until the flour reminds him of flurries, falling flurries.

Out he goes to see if the flakes are coming down yet.  They are!  Now he wonders how much snow will fall.  His Mom thinks it will cover the ground but asks him to help her clean the bathrooms.  All goes well until the oodles of soapy bubbles remind him of what is happening in his neighborhood.  When he opens the door, stepping onto the lawn, he sees the world starting to look whiter.

Busy getting ready for company his Mom could use his help changing the bedding.  Doing the best he can, he drapes those pure white sheets over his mattress.  Yes, readers, they remind him of the drifts which must certainly be forming.  Out and in he goes again.  Everything is getting spread in layers of winter's frosting.

Could this be a big snow?  During his afternoon nap, a dream exceeds his wildest expectations.  Between reality and our imagination the line is often fine, so fine it ceases to exist.

It's easy to fall in love with David and his Mom.  Their conversational exchanges depict a trusting and loving relationship; his enthusiasm tempered with her patience throughout the day.  For each task reminding David of the snow, Jonathan Bean takes David's words using them to build upon the changing weather outside. His repetition of a certain phrase gives the story a spirited rhythm matching the boy's growing eagerness.  Here is an example.

But then the flour, white and fine, made David think of snow.
So he decided to check the weather. 
Small flakes fell softly, white and fine.

Opening the jacket we get a bird's eye perspective of the town, zooming in on David in his backyard with his red sled waiting, watching the snowflakes fall.  On the title page the viewpoint shifts to us looking at David straight on, his Mom peering out the kitchen window to check on him.  The next wordless illustration spans edge to edge across two pages, giving us a glimpse of the neighborhood, a small quiet area with older homes.  Again we are looking from above.

For the majority of the book four single-page pictures follow one of Jonathan Bean's two page spreads.  The single pages bring us right into the rooms of the house with David and his Mom.  A special endearing humor becomes apparent when Bean interprets this sentence each time.

So he decided to check the weather.

We see David's mom cleaning up, finishing, his latest efforts to help, little messes left in haste.

Rendered in watercolor and ink, the choices in color, while it's winter outside, exude a warmth especially when we are inside David's home.  Small details Christmas decorations, a calendar and a menorah in a neighbor's window give us an idea of the time of year.  Quietly present in most of the illustrations, clearly a member of the family, is a ginger-colored cat.  Bean even concludes the story with a final small illustration as part of the publication information page.

Big Snow written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean is going to make a big impression on every single reader.  With a group as the first snowfall gently covers the ground outside or one on one snuggled inside before bed, this book is adorable with a capital A.  It's got the combination of text and pictures which will make it a timeless classic.

Embedded in Jonathan Bean's name are links to his website and blog.  If you follow this link to the publisher's website you can get a look at more illustrations from the book. Update:  Today, October 31, 2013, Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, posted many illustrations in various stages from this title.

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