Quote of the Month

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Winter Lullaby

Over the years, winter has become my favorite season of the year.  There is nothing I enjoy more than hiking through the snow with Xena on a calm night. The air is so clear; the stars seem to hang from the heavens like crystals on a celestial chandler.  As we pause in the stillness, there is no sound other than our breathing.

When the final page is read and the cover slowly closed, there are books which cause the same stillness to surround a reader.  Unlike the perfect frosty evening, with each reading the same feeling can return any day all year long.  Once Upon A Northern Night (Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press, July 30, 2013) written by Jean E. Pendziwol with pictures by Isabelle Arsenault is an exquisite portrayal of nature's nocturnal harmony.  It's a song of love to life.

Once upon a northern night
while you lay sleeping,
wrapped in a downy blanket,
I painted you a picture.

An unseen narrator takes the canvas of the night adding elements one by one beginning with a single snowflake as singular as the child tucked in the warm bed.  Moments later others join the first until the outside view is transformed. Pine boughs hold a powdery treat ready to be released.

Crisp apples still hanging from trees supply a doe and her fawn with a late night snack as a large owl silently glides by, feathers leaving patterns on the snowy top layer.  Snowshoe hares dance steps known only to them as a fox longingly watches.  No invitation is extended for him to join their party.

Fallen seeds from the bird feeder lure a mouse into brave acts to get a taste. Clouds pass to reveal a sky scattered with stars as the pulsing of northern lights adds colored hues.  Frosty designs decorate a window as the moon bends to earth.  A child wakes.  

Lilting lyrics lull the reader into a world of wonder.  Out of the poetry written by Jean E. Pendziwol, a deep affection for the child and a profound admiration for the natural world are elegantly conveyed.  Her distinctive descriptions depict a vivid sense of place; the crunch of apples eaten by the deer, the shift in the air as the owl passes, the soft snort heard as the hares scamper for cover or air so cold you can almost hold it in your hands.  Here is an example.

...that gathered into puffs of creamy white,
settling like balls of cotton,

A cool, subdued color palette in white, cream, blue, gray and black with splashes of green, yellow, brown and red creates a peaceful, pastoral venue for this gift to the child.  Isabelle Arsenault rendered these illustrations using pencil, gouache, watercolor and ink, combining them digitally.  The matching jacket and cover unfold, displaying a picture which is at the same time a panoramic snowy landscape and a blanket covering a sleeping child.  Charcoal opening and closing endpapers are covered in small bunches of grasses and flowers colored in silver.

Fine lines, softened physical attributes and the use of shading and light accentuate the elements in every picture.  There is texture on every page, asking to be touched.  Some of the visuals are a single page opposite a page displaying only the text.  Others are two pages wrapping around the words.  As you would expect, white space features heavily in the design.  My favorite illustration is of the child's home done in shades of blue, trees on each side with a wide border of frosty swirls at the bottom.

There are those very special books which become part of the nightly reading ritual.  Once Upon A Northern Night written by Jean E. Pendziwol with pictures by Isabelle Arsenault is one of those books.  Whether used at bedtime, in a study of winter, or to demonstrate the power of poetry, the combination of text and illustrations is pure magic.  I love this book more every time I read it.

Please follow the links embedded in the author's and illustrator's names to learn more about them and their work.  Additional pages can be viewed at Isabelle Arsenault's website.

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