“Canada is about possibilities. Dreams can come true here.” ~ Ruth Ohi
Recently I saw a wonderful exhibit at the TD Gallery of the Toronto Reference Library called “I Am Canada: Celebrating Canadian Picture Book Art.” There were many illustrations from various books, some known to me and others new to me. The original picture book art of several illustrators was on display, reflecting the landscape, seasons, flavours, celebrations and cultural diversity that characterize Canada. As an early childhood educator, I have had the special job of selecting books of quality to read to young children in my care for nearly twenty years, and I am proud to say that many of the books I have read to children were showcased in that exhibit. I have selected four picture books that speak to the creative relationship children have with snow – all by Canadian authors and illustrators – but I will begin with Heather Patterson’s book, “I Am Canada: A Celebration” which, along with the exhibit, provided the inspiration for this blog post.
Patterson, Heather. I Am Canada: A Celebration. Toronto: North Winds Press, 2017
This is a gorgeous picture book, featuring the art of thirteen Canadian illustrators. With simple, poetic prose, each two-page spread features the distinctive artwork of each of these illustrators: Jeremy Tankard, Ruth Ohi, Barbara Reid, Jon Klassen, Jarie-Louise Gay, Danielle Daniel, Ashley Spires, Geneviève Côté, Cale Atkinson, Doretta Groendendyk, Qin Leng, Eva Campbell and Irene Luxbacher. Readers can appreciate how illustrations are created using a variety of materials (e.g., Plasticine, watercolour paints, pastels, mixed media etc.), providing different ways of imagining Canada as a place to skate, dance, tobaggan, read, learn, dream, see the northern lights, experience four seasons, be quiet and curious, explore and celebrate and to be free. The book includes a photo of each artist and a statement they made about this book. It is truly a beautiful tribute to Canada’s contribution to the body of children’s literature.
Clark, Joan. Snow. Toronto: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2006
Kady MacDonald Denton’s vibrant watercolour and ink illustrations bring to life Clark’s story about Sammy, a little boy who imagines his way through the winter. He watches as the snow falls longer and longer, and piles higher and higher, until the plows appear and his familiar world has completely disappeared. He imagines that beneath the snow he’ll find hibernating bears, whales, woolly mammoths, ships trapped in ice, Santa’s workshop and many other magical creatures. Each day opens him up to a new adventure, until the sun’s warmth melts the snow and turns his mind to thoughts of spring.
Gay, Marie-Louise. Stella Queen of the Snow. Toronto: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2000.
Gay’s gentle watercolour paintings and her subtle use of colour help tell the story of how Stella introduces her reluctant little brother Sam to the magic of winter. Because this is Sam’s first experience of playing in the snow, he asks Stella many questions. Is the snow cold? What does a snowman eat? How many snowflakes are there in a snowball? As Stella tries to engage Sam in eating snowflakes, making a snowman, skating on the pond, building a fort and sledding, his questions reveal his concerns about getting eaten by a snowman, where frogs sleep in winter, and the dangers of sledding downhill too fast. It is when Sam and Stella lay together on a blanket of snow to make snow angels that he can enter her world of imagination and hear the angels singing to him.
Gilman, Phoebe. Jillian Jiggs and the Great Big Snow. Markham, ON: Scholastic Canada Ltd., 2002
Gilman’s playful rhyming text and bright illustrations rendered in gouache and coloured pencil, quickly invite readers to join Jillian Jiggs and her friends as they build Martian snow pigs! As the story progresses, Jillian worries about geting in trouble because she keeps losing her winter wear – scarf, mittens and ultimately the Martian head gear that prompted her alien snow play in the first place. Children will love reciting the repeating phrase, “Jillian, Jillian, say it’s not true! How do you lose all the things that you do?” as they imagine what they might create the next time they are out playing in the snow.
Reid, Barbara. Perfect Snow. Toronto: North Winds Press, 2oo9
Reid’s illustrations, rendered both in sculpted Plasticine and ink and watercolour drawings, capture the excitement that children feel when they wake up to discover that perfect snow has fallen overnight. Jim and Scott daydream at school about recess, and building snowmen and a “totally massive, indestructible Snow Fortress of Doom.” Though their projects are vulnerable to the frenzied snow play of everyone in the school yard, they soon have their friends working together to build a fort with a surprise element! Even when rain turns their hard work into slush, the boys can only see further opportunities for being creative. The colourful, textured art and the black and grey drawings give readers different windows into the telling of the story, making this a book readers will return to many times, to take in every detail.
“In these sometimes troubling and chaotic times, I think our hope lies with all the children of this country. That is why we must ensure they they have shelter, education and love so they can dream and imagine a luminous future for our country.”
~ Marie-Louise Gay