Monday, October 14, 2013

danyelle recommends Big Snow by Jonathan Bean

When this is the view from my deck,
I know winter is on its way.

And even though I'm sorry to give up my garden and lunches of fresh tomato and basil sandwiches, I love the magic of winter's first snow.  Jonathan Bean's new book, Big Snow, captures that magic.

David waits, with his sled at the ready, for snow to fall.  When his mom suggests that he help make cookies, he starts with good intentions, but the "flour, white and fine" reminds him of snow and "he [decides] to check the weather," leaving a mess in the kitchen for his mom to clean.  He tries to help clean the bathroom and change the sheets, but at each attempt, he is distracted and runs out to "check the weather." That evening, the snow David has been looking forward to all day finally covers the ground, and David and his parents bundle up and go out into the wintry neighborhood together.

One of the things I most enjoy about this book is its balanced structure.  Pages showing David inside his home alternate with zoomed-out double-page spreads of David's neighborhood where he checks on the snow's progress, creating a pattern that is emphasized in the text.  "Flour, white and fine" is a preview of "small flakes . . . white and fine."  "Suds, white and fluffy" precede "flakes . . . white and fluffy," and "new sheets, white and cool" anticipate "the snow . . . covering everything, white and cool."  The pattern breaks at the story's climax when David dreams of a big snow, which in turn, leads to the resolution ("Then David, Dad, and Mom went to check on the big snow.") that wraps neatly back to the title page where we first saw David waiting under the title "Big Snow".

The illustrations depict David's neighborhood--not just any neighborhood--but one that you would definitely recognize if you visited it.  Closely-spaced, two-story homes on deep, rectangular lots with clotheslines in the backyards and power lines running above the sidewalks give this neighborhood a distinctive sense of place. Add to that details like a Menorah in a back window, a mailman with a walking route, covered porches, and low hills on the horizon, and you just KNOW this is a place that you could find on a map and visit.

In those repeated double-page spreads of the neighborhood, we see the accumulation of snow, we see the background fade into white, we see lights from the homes and streetlights, and we feel the hush that comes with snowfall.  Small houses and smaller people make the snow--the wondrous, magical snow--feel BIG.

David is always at the forefront of the story.  He is the one pictured talking; his mom may say something in the text, but the pictures are all about David.  He dances in flour with the abandon of childhood (my favorite picture) and plays in soap suds with vigor.  He tosses his coat, scarf, and mittens to the floor, only to pick them up again as he runs out the door.  There is no apology for his eagerness to see the snow.

And then let's talk about what is NOT in the text.  While Mom makes suggestions to keep David busy and is left to clean up a mess every time he tries to help, she doesn't scold him.  The pictures clearly show her aggravation, but the story stays with David as he rushes outside.  Here is a kid being a kid in the best kind of way.

Winter usually comes too early where I live, but reading this story makes me long for a snow day!

Check out interior artwork here.

Big Snow
by Jonathan Bean
published by Farrar Straus Giroux
September 2013

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