“There Were Two Little Bears…”
Book reviewed: Snow Sisters! – Kerri Kokias and Teagan White, Alfred A. Knopf, 2018
Actually, this is not about two little bears, but two sisters. They don’t actually live in the woods, either, but the theme of the book reminded me of an A.A. Milne poem, “Twice Times,” which makes me think about parenting and siblings:
“There were Two Little Bears who lived in a Wood,
And one of them was Bad and the other was Good.”
The two bears in the poem initially embody opposite qualities, such as the ability to learn multiplication tables vs. the inability to keep one’s clothes and personal articles neat and tidy. At the end, they switch roles, with the fastidious fan of arithmetic forgetting all the numbers he had learned while his messy brother learns to use a handkerchief.
In Snow Sisters, by Kerri Kokias and Teagan White, the two sisters, unnamed like the bears, have very different attitudes towards winter weather and towards the outdoors in general. Kokias’ brief phrases serve as captions:
“Coat. Scarf. Hat.
Cocoa. Blankets. Books.
White’s pictures advance the story, and the words are repeated in a slightly different order, as each sister comes to appropriate the other’s responses. The images have the look of mid-century children’s illustration and a touch of animation, with a color palette based on reds, purples, and mauve.
We see the red-haired sister enthusiastically pulling on her boots in a messy room. A drawer is left open, and a sock is folded over a lampshade. Her brown-haired sister sits on a chaise longue cheerfully reading one book from a high pile. The titles are deliberately not legible, lending a generic quality to this tale of two sisters who switch roles.
It was hard for me not to take sides. I completely identified with the brown-haired sister reading, and sitting on a window seat next to a box of pencils, while her stuffed animals have a tea party. When she finally laces up her boots, I felt a little disappointed. I was relieved to see the outdoorsy sister settle with a cup of cocoa inside a tent made of blankets, next to the paper snowflakes which she had cut out and a notebook opened to her drawings. The girls are smiling in most of the pictures, but a touch of insecurity does touch their faces when the bookish sister looks out the window at the bad weather, and when the adventurous one falls off her sled. Even she has limits.
This is Kerri Kokias’s first book. Her website chronicles her formation as a writer and lists as influences Shel Silverstein, William Steig, ad Beverly Cleary, among others.
This is my second post on Teagan White, whose art is available on a number of social media, such as Tumblr. Here her contrasting sisters are as convincing as her mice. Unlike the Milne poem, the book doesn’t have a moral, (“There may be a moral, but some say not.”) unless it is that sisters can be different and close at the same time.