Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Seasonal Survivors

After every snowfall evidence of the neighborhood wildlife is seen in crazy lines on the surface going from yard to yard, in and out of driveways and down the street.  These clues as to identity and directions taken are like searching for treasure.  Some of the prints are repeated again and again in the same spots; pathways instinctively used toward a food source.

On those frigid nights when the house creaks and snaps with the temperature changes, I often think about whether those critters are snug and safe.  In the most recent title in his nature series, Frozen Wild: How Animals Survive In The Coldest Places On Earth (Sterling Children's Books, September 1, 2015) Jim Arnosky writes and illustrates beautifully about animals living in extreme seasonal conditions.  The adaptability of these animals is nearly miraculous.

Quietly it comes. 

Those three words in the introduction create many questions which are expertly answered in the remainder of the introduction, nine subsequent chapters, an author's note and a lengthy bibliography.  We are pointed to the signs all around us of the approaching solstice.

Mighty rivers flow more slowly, turning to slush.  And the north wind blows.

 We learn how the earth's position causes winter at different times in the northern and southern hemispheres.

Though ice forms on the top of streams, rivers, ponds and lakes there is active life underneath each of them.  Look closely at the air hole on top of a beaver lodge the next time the mercury dips deeply in the thermometer.  What will you see?  Plunge holes and webbed feet assist other water mammals and ducks.  Travel over the snow depends on its depth, the weight of the animals, extra fur on their feet and the length and sturdiness of their legs.

To the north in the Arctic, life is further challenged with temperatures known to drop to -80 degrees Fahrenheit.  Brrr! Land, air and sea animals can change colors to camouflage themselves, grow tusks and teeth to fight off other males of their kind, have thick layers of fat and extra fur to keep them warm and either circle together or scatter when a predator advances.  Woodland creatures have extra fat and fur to keep them warm and dry, too.  Birds fluff feathers to create another layer of warmth, air heated by their bodies.

Far down at the southern end of our planet the continent of Antarctica is residence to only penguins, sea birds and seals.  The Wandering Albatross and the Emperor Penguin hold world records with their wing span and diving abilities respectively.  Did you know some of the birds have special tubular noses to enhance their smelling abilities for food?  Cool facts about these creatures living in the coldest conditions are fascinating and captivating.

The familiarity Jim Arnosky has with his subject is evident in the relaxed manner used in the delivery of his narrative.  The explicit information about each animal points to extensive research.  The mix of long chapter introductions and the shorter image captions creates an engaging pace.  Here are some sample passages from the Beavers In Winter chapter.

Introductory sentences from Under the Ice

When a landscape is frozen and covered with snow, water still flows and fish still swim under the ice that forms on the rivers and lakes.  It is cold down deep, but not freezing.  River otters find openings in the ice to dive through and hunt for fish and crayfish.  Otters hunt in a circuit of "plunge holes" that takes about two weeks to complete.

Caption on fold out three page illustration

A beaver lodge is an impenetrable
fortress that even the largest
predators cannot claw into.  

All of the pictures, the matching dust jacket and book case and the interior pages, are rendered by Jim Arnosky in pencil and acrylic paints.  They are rich in atmosphere, realistic detail, color, light and shadow.  The opening and closing endpapers are in a cool pale blue, slightly lighter than the text on the title page.  A seal is featured on the table of contents page.  To the right of five chapters are paw prints signifying a fold out.

Each of the chapter introductions is framed in exquisite pencil drawings of animals, objects and scenes relative to the topic.  Opposite each introduction, even those that are fold out paintings, are single page illustrations.  The fold out pages are striking.  The first is a cutaway of a beaver lodge.  In the upper right-hand corner is a small image of the lodge during the fall as it is being constructed.  The second is four pages seamlessly blending several habitats of the animals in the Arctic.

One of my favorite illustrations, other than the front dust jacket picture, is the Snow Travelers picture.  It's at night during a light snow.   A large bull moose is standing on a hill with trees in the background.  Scampering in front of him is a snowshoe rabbit leaving tracks behind with back paws raised to the reader.  Two birds are in flight to the left.

Frozen Wild: How Animals Survive In The Coldest Places On Earth written and illustrated by Jim Arnosky is a remarkable portrayal of animals.  Readers will enjoy the new information and study the stunning pictures; both inviting further investigation.  I highly recommend the addition of this title to professional libraries and personal bookshelves for those interested in our natural world.

To learn more about Jim Arnosky and his other books please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Jim Arnosky is interviewed at Unleashing Readers and The Children's Book Review about title.

Remember to stop at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the choices selected by the other bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. I read this book late last year and loved it. One of Arnosky's best. Perfect for animal adaptations! Didn't you love the two page spreads?

    1. It IS one of Arnosky's best although I really like the first one, Wild Tracks, too. His artwork is completely fascinating. The two page spreads are breathtaking.