Quote of the Month

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

Friday, November 13, 2020

A Snow-tastic Spell

Earlier this week, a wild rain and windstorm raged through our entire state.  Along the Great Lakes in northern Michigan waves rose and trees bent from these forces.  This event heralded the arrival of much colder conditions.  Clouds spit snow earlier this morning.

Winter is nature's seasonal pause.  Now is the time to enjoy this yearly rest. Ten Ways To Hear Snow (KOKILA, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, October 13, 2020) written by Cathy Camper with illustrations by Kenard Pak follows a little girl as she walks to her grandmother's house after a nightly blizzard.  It is a sensory sensation.

When Lina woke up, everything was quiet.

Everything was coated in snow.  There were no sounds of vehicles on the move.  Despite the weather, today was the day she and her grandmother were making warak enab with grape leaves.  Dressed snuggly, her parents allowed her to go.

As she stood outside Lina wondered if this was how Sitti, her grandmother, sensed the world.  Were the sounds she heard gentler?  Were they sharper?

As she traveled to Sitti's home specific sounds were noted by Lina.  The music of a shovel on a sidewalk, of the bite of the bottoms of her boots in the snow, and of snow swept off car roofs and windshields were the first few she heard.  Activities of children made new sounds.  Lina listened to cross-country skiers and snowman makers.

Lina finally arrived at her grandmother's building.  She had heard eight snow sounds.  After greeting her grandmother, they cooked together, step by careful step.  They imagined what the rolled, grape leaf bundles might be other than food.  Eating their meal, Lina talked with Sitti about the blizzard.  She was surprised at an answer her grandmother gave to a question.  Then, side by side and outside wrapped in warmth and love, they heard the final sound of snow.  

Like Lina gathering sounds of snow, author Cathy Camper, piece by piece, creates a tapestry for readers of the world after a blizzard and of familial affection.  Her concise sentences, some with dialogue, are a realistic reflection of Lina, her parents and her Sitti.  Each sound Lina hears is accurately depicted with her meticulous use of language.  There is a soothing rhythm supplied by the introduction of the sound and Lina's response.  Here is a passage.

Lina cut across the park.

Scritch, scratch, scritch, scratch.

Another snow sound?
Lina saw long, skinny tracks by her boots.  Ahead of her,
people were skiing.  Their skis made the fifth way to hear snow.

The silvery, white-coated world is eloquently portrayed, first to readers, on the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  On the dust jacket it extends flap edge to flap edge.  The frosty clarity is so real you can imagine yourself standing with Lina and Sitti.  They are shown on the front of the jacket and case as they appear together on the closing page.  On the back the community buildings and trees with branches reaching out and up like arms, continue.  Text nestled between boughs in the snow-filled sky read:


A sage green color covers the opening and closing endpapers.  A darker green, complementary to the endpapers, is used to form a snowflake made of grape leaves on the title page.  This single, enlarged snowflake is placed beneath the text.

Rendered digitally Kenard Pak's artwork, on single and double pages, is delicate and intricate.  His details draw readers deeper into the story.  With care he uses darker colors on his characters and certain elements in each setting.  Other items are lighter and etched.

His perspectives, a scene viewed through an upstairs window with curtains acting as framing, a panoramic view of Lina's street, and a bird's eye view of her walking in the snow afford readers a genuine experience.  When Lina enters Sitti's home we are shown a view of the outside of her apartment and one inside with Lina in four different places.  For the making of warak enab, he provides us with a page showing the four stages of filling and folding the grape leaves.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when Lina is walking, listening, and hearing her boot soles on the snow.  The crisp white background in broken by blue-shadowed footprints leading to Lina walking off the right side of this single-page picture.  Text appears above and below the footprints and Lina.  Of Lina, we see her hat, scarf, coat, legs, and boots from above.  A small portion of the bag with the grape leaves in her right hand is there.  This is a marvelous view.

Besides being an enchanting encounter within a wintry realm, Ten Ways To Hear Snow written by Cathy Camper with illustrations by Kenard Pak asks readers to take a respite in their normal, daily lives.  It challenges them to seek other sounds present in snow.  This title is pure perfection for a winter-themed storytime or perhaps one revolving around being more present in the moments of movements between awakening and sleep.  I highly recommend this book for your personal and professional collections.

By following the link attached to Cathy Camper's and Kenard Pak's names, you can access their websites to learn more about them and their other work.  Cathy Camper has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Kenard Pak has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view the title page.

The silence in the mornings as the sun rises is complete.  Many of our feathered friends have flown to more southern regions for winter.  Others that remain have distinctive times of the day when they make appearances.  Fortunate are those who see a flash of red, reminding us of the presence of cardinals.  Sometimes when the sun shines brightly, chick-a-dees will gather in the trees, singing.  Blue jays squawk and swoop, sometimes alone or in a pair.  At dark, the hooting of an owl signals their nightly rituals.  Snow Birds (Abrams Books for Young Readers, November 3, 2020) written by Kirsten Hall with pictures by Jenni Desmond is a poetic, pictorial ode to those birds who remain in winter or thrive in colder climates.  Eighteen poems about seventeen birds will have you seeking their presence every time you step outside.

Blue Jay
Look! In the tree! A blue jay feeder.
Carved with care from fine red cedar.
Hung with love, set facing east,
a call to all:  It's a peanut feast! . . .

A Carolina wren seeks a home.  Where will they find a cozy place to rest?  Snow buntings flock and fly painting a pattern in the sky.  In formation snow geese weather the snow, finding a place to sleep.

Black rosy-finches call and look for food before they head for shelter.  An Atlantic puffin dives, beak open, and feeds on fish.  A hawk sits statue still as a swarm of Bohemian waxwings tantalize it.  

Under the snow a hollowed house is filled with the feathered body of a ruffed grouse.  Do you hear them call?  A snowy owl hoots for all listening to hear.  

Many days their distinctive songs echo across the landscape.  If you are lucky, they will land near you, these black-capped chickadees.  Grateful American tree sparrows gather to feed on seed.  What is that drum-like beat?  It's a downy woodpecker finding a meal, making a hole for a nest, and hoping for a mate.  Winter is nearly over.  Spring is easing back.  There is a brief glimpse of red.  Northern cardinals welcome this change with their tunes.  And the blue jays find joy in a new nest.

With a passion for her subject, author Kirsten Hall writes her verses showcasing the characteristics and habits of each bird.  She highlights those specifics which separate them from other birds within the context of all of them surviving in harsher conditions.  She uses rhyming masterfully, blending the bird calls into her narrative.  Her words sing off the pages.  Here is an entire poem.

Snow Goose
Snowflakes whirling,

snow-flocks swirling,

streaks of white

twirl through

the night.  Then




a good night. 

(This poem is presented with the words, across two pages, forming a v above and below a flock flying in formation.)

From a single goose we hear:

Ki-ki-ki-ki! Ki-ki-ki-ki!
Ki-ki-ki-ki! Ki-ki-ki-ki!

Luminescent illustrations by Jenni Desmond are presented on the open dust jacket, front and back.  The northern cardinals on the front form a striking contrast to the snowy setting in cool colors.  Held to the light, snowflakes shimmer as the jacket is moved back and forth.  To the left, on the back, a snowy owl sits on top of a nearly white dune.  Above it a dark sky presents a perfect canvas for the crescent moon.  On the black sky words read:

"A soulful, vivid look at the
hidden world at winter birds."
---New York City Audubon

On the book case the snow geese are featured in their V-shaped arrangement, one bird flying from the upper, left-hand corner to the front bird flying off the center, right-hand side.  The lower side of the v has the final two birds close to the spine. The birds' wings, some up and some down, and some back, indicate their beautiful movement.  They are presented on a gray streaked canvas with snow falling.  This picture is eloquent enough to have you believing you can hear them.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a stark winter landscape.  A thin ribbon of blue is spread across the top.  Beneath this is snow.  Along the bottom is a trail of bird tracks.  On the closing endpapers one element is added.  The bird who made the tracks.

On the title page all seventeen birds are shown around and among the text.  Each double-page picture rendered by Jenni Desmond using

watercolor, acrylic, pencil crayons, ink, drypoint printmaking, and Photoshop

displays a knowledge of setting, habitats, and the birds.  

The details are breathtaking.  The placement of text within the images reveals a superb sense of design. 

Sometimes we are close to the birds when they are feeding among branches.  Other times they are placed in a larger world.  A large snowy vista spans two pages with a dark gray sky, a line of trees, branches bare, and a single bird feeder standing in the snow in the foreground on the right.  A flock of American tree sparrows gladly gather.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the black-capped chick-a-dee.  For this two-page image the canvas is black.  The poem is on the right side, text in white.  On the left enveloped by the black, as if cupped in hands, is a single small chick-a-dee.  This is a stunning depiction.

For a unit on winter, birds, or broadening your knowledge of our natural world, Snow Birds written by Kirsten Hall with artwork by Jenni Desmond is an excellent choice.  At the close of the book are seventeen additional paragraphs, one for each bird.  Kirsten Hall includes an author's note in the form of a letter to readers.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional bookshelves.

To learn more about Jenni Desmond and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Kirsten Hall has an account on Twitter.  Jenni Desmond has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.


  1. Shukran! Thank you so much for your thoughtful review of my book. I just want to make one small correction - the big snowflake that opens the book is made of grape leaves, not maple leaves. It was Kenard Pak's insightful way of merging the books' two themes, of grape leaves, and snow. I was very touched when I saw this open the book, and so wanted to point it out. Again, many thanks! Cathy Camper

    1. Thank you for your very kind words, Cathy. I have made the change in my writing. I am grateful to you for sharing this with me.