Stoke up the fire and wrap yourself up in a warm blanket before settling down to enjoy Winter’s Child by Angela McAllister, illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith (@GrahameBakerSmi), a gently haunting, somewhat melancholic but ultimately hopeful story full of delight, empathy and friendship.
Young Tom cannot get enough of the snow. And when it also brings him a secret (imaginary?) friend, his days outside filled with snowballs and skiing are doubly delicious. However, the cold is not loved by everyone and as Tom’s mother runs out of food and fuel, all the family worry for Tom’s grandmother, who may not make it through the winter. Tom gives up his playthings to burn as firewood, but ultimately it is his new friend who has to let go; winter’s child relinquishes his hold on the land to give way to spring.
McAllisters’ mysterious tale doesn’t shy away from darker themes such as intense worry, or the possibility of death. It is also a quiet and moving exploration of selfless love between family and friends.
Baker-Smith’s illustrations are mesmerising. They capture the beauty and stillness, and indeed the sharpness of cold, cold air. At times there is a clarity in his illustrations which make them almost photographic. The magic has a fairytale quality, and yet with its dark depths, this is not a sugar-coated picture book. It is, however, deeply satisfying, and I can’t help but wonder if this Kate Greenaway Medal winning illustrator hasn’t created another award winning book.
The Twistrose Key by Tone Almhjell (@tonealmhjell) is another gorgeously wintry read, a novel great for reading aloud at bedtime with mugs of cocoa, perhaps to the same children who would enjoy Winter’s Child, or for older children to read themselves.
This fantasy debut is set in the land of Slyver, where winter reigns eternal. Echoes with Narnia continue as we learn that the mysterious place is inhabited by talking animals. In fact, Sylver is a sort of heaven for our once beloved pets and when Lin stumbles into this world she is delighted to meet her much loved and much missed pet vole, before they both set off on a thrilling adventure, with danger, and beauty, and excitement-a-plenty, to find the missing Winter Prince, the only person who can save Sylver before the clock chimes midnight.
The world built up by Almhjell is extremely beguiling. There are two enticing maps at the start of the book introducing us to this magical, snow dusted land (simple but beautiful illustrations by Ian Schoenherr at the start of each chapter are a lovely further addition) and it is very easy to find oneself fantasising about exploring the locations in this book and making friends with the intriguing cast of characters. Occasionally I found the world-building went into overdrive, with so many neologisms and multiple magical explanations which sometimes felt a little too fortuitous, but the premise that dearly departed pets are eagerly waiting to be reunited with their child owners in a magical land full of sparkle and snow will spark the imagination of many young listeners and readers.
I don’t know if we’ll get snow this winter (though my fingers are crossed), so we made our own snowflakes to bring a little of Tom’s world into ours. After a disastrous first attempt at making white salt dough using cornflour (the idea was for white dough, but what we got was – as I should have expected – a non newtonian liquid), we made a second batch with regular flour (1 quantity of plain flour, ½ that quantity of table salt and ½ the flour’s quantity of cold tap water) and cut out snowflakes with a cookie cutter.
Once baked, we painted them and covered them in glitter. This caused them to go a little soft, so we just hung them over the radiator for a couple of days and then they became nice and firm again.
Then whilst the kids were at school I transformed their bedroom into a winter wonderland using their snowflakes and lengths of gauzy material. This is what it looked like before:
And this is what it looked like afterwards!
When they came home, they were as delighted as I hoped they would be 🙂
And so we spent the rest of the day telling stories to each other and playing in our own snow dusted landscape.
Whilst playing in our winter wonderland we listened to:
Here’s an alternative visualisation of the music:
I recommend that grown-ups read the best ever short story about snow – Wallace Stegner‘s Genesis, which can be found in Wolf Willow or his Collected Stories. Powerful and chilling to the very core. But what other wintery stories do you love?
Disclosure: Both books reviewed today were sent to me free by their respective publishers as review copies.