I live in a fairly mild climate. Hardly has the first frost melted when cashiers and postal employees start saying, “I’m ready for spring.” Come on, people! It’s not like we have to chop our own wood and stoke our own leaky furnaces any more. I like winter (within reason)—it gives land and trees a needed rest and kills off a few ticks and chiggers. I love the clean smell of winter air and the stark beauty of skeletal branches etched on the sky. I love soup and oven stew with soda bread, wool sweaters and boots. Every season has its own charm, and our three featured books celebrate winter in their own ways.
This season’s big Disney feature, Frozen, is supposed to be loosely based on this classic tale. In the original, it’s one of Andersen’s more difficult stories: long and rambling and lacking cohesion within its parts. The evil troll (or trolls), who kick off the action by making a deceitful mirror, disappear once the damage is done and we never hear from them again. The title character appears only briefly and appears to have no motivation or personality. Between the troll and the queen are Gerda and Kai (Kay), two fast friends who are separated when a splinter of the shattered mirror enters Kai’s heart and turns it to ice. The Snow Queen snatches him away and Gerda must embark on a long journey, spanning months or perhaps years, to find him. It’s a simple story (shortened in this version) that can be interpreted as a parable of the helplessness of individuals under the power of sin, and Christ’s persistent campaign of rescue. The illustrations are outstanding: Bagram Ibatoulline is coming up in the picture-book world, with a lush, detailed style that reminds me of Chris Van Allsburg. A great read-aloud for a winter’s night.
- Worldview/moral value: 5 (out of 5)
- Literary/artistic value: 5
Some memories are etched in glass, sharp and clear: The first ice came on the sheep pails in the barn—a skim of ice so thin it broke when we touched it. To this family in semi-rural Maine, it’s a brave, hopeful sign, like the song of a bluebird on a cold March morning. For soon would come the second and third kinds of ice, each harder and thicker than the last. Then Field and Stream Ice. And Black Ice: Water shocked still by the cold before the snow. They could do some serious skating then; Ellen and her sister racing for miles at silver speeds at which lungs and legs, clouds and sun, wind and cold raced together. Our blades spat out silver. Our lungs breathed out silver. Our minds burst with silver while the winter sun danced silver down our bending backs. But all that is really a warm up for Garden Ice—the family skating rink built with loving care, at a size that attracts the whole neighborhood. Dad is the architect, engineer, and after-hours groom, no doubt passing on a family tradition as the boys live for hockey and the girls dream of Olympic figure skating. The Last Ice, with its bumps and puddles, signals the end of another glowing season. But Dream Ice, the twelfth kind, comes anytime at all, and
when it did, we could skate anywhere we wanted—down roads, in and out of yards, and over the tops of trees. We could do any jump we pleased without practicing. Double axles over houses and splits over telephone wires. Spins on chimney tops and spirals down slanting roofs. We lifted our skates into the sky to land on the back edges of clouds. We never fell. We never got dizzy. We never got tired.
I grew up where it seldom snows and have only skated twice in my life—an experience that included, safe to say, no double-axles. And yet I totally get this. I love how the author’s experience reaches out to touch mine and finds beauty where some would see only barrenness and waste. The language is unmatched and the line-drawing illustrations perfect. Not to be missed.
- Worldview/moral value: 5 (as a celebration of God’s world and man’s creativity)
- Literary/artistic value: 5
Call of the Klondike: a True Gold Rush Adventure, by David Meissner and Kim Richardson. Calkins Creek, 2012, 164 pages. Age/interest level: 10-up.
Seattle, 1897: “On July 17, sixty-eight rugged miners stepped off the SS Portland and made their way through the excited crowds.” Their sacks, blankets, oil cans, even shoes were filled with gold: many millions worth. Within hours the news was rocketing around the world: fortunes waited for the taking in the Klondike region of northern Canada. Stanley Pearce and Marshall Bond happened to be in Seattle when the news arrived, and quickly concluded that they’d found themselves in the right place at the right time. Both were young, healthy, and unattached. Both had mining experience or knowledge. And they had connections, especially Peirce’s father, who wired them two thousand bucks to fund their expedition. Best of all, if they left by the end of August they would beat the crowds to the gold fields.
If anyone was likely to succeed, it was these two, but their luck ran out even before they reached the Klondike. The terrain was extremely difficult, expenses greater than anticipated, and winter closed around them like an iron fist before they expected it. Like 99.5% of the Klondike prospectors, they never panned enough gold to cover their losses. On the other hand . . . they got to participate in the last great gold rush, braved the last frontier, slept outside under the Nothern Lights, befriended other indomitables like Jack London (who used Bond’s chief sled dog as the model for Buck in Call of the Wild), and survived the adventure of their lives. Their letters home insisted (maybe a little too insistently) that they were happy and inspired: . . . Bond and I both paused from the hard work we had in hand to comment on the grandeur of it all and wonder what unknown thing made this Godforsaken barren country so fascinating to us . . . with all its hardships there is a certain indescribable ghastly fascination about it.
Gold wasn’t the real treasure after all. The story is mostly told through original sources: letters, lists, news accounts, telegrams, and lots of pictures. True-adventure fans will love it.
- Worldview/moral value: 4
- Literary value: 4
For another winter’s tale, be sure to see our review of The Invention of Lefse, by Larry Woiwode.