Snow Falls – by Kate Gardner, illustrated by Brandon James Scott, Tundra Books, 2020
Snow days may have taken on a new meaning under lockdown, but being briefly free of normal responsibilities is the opposite of needing to stay inside to reduce risks to yourself and your community. Kate Gardner and Brandon James Scott’s Snow Falls is about the childhood experience of snow, that always welcome moment when snow covers the world and transforms it into something different. Even if you live in a region where climate change has not deprived kids of this annual joy, the first snowfall of the year still seems new. The simplest of sentences guide readers among paintbox-colored pictures of winter, when every activity becomes layered with imagination.
The book starts indoors, where the first appearance of snow, as every child knows, is essential to appreciating its wonder. The opening pages declare that “Snow starts,” and we see two windows. The first shows a little girl peering out at the beginning snowfall, while the second reveals behind three of its four panes a rack of outdoor clothing, and in one pane on the bottom, ordinary non-seasonal items. These books and a plant will have to wait for spring to become important again.
Outside, things are not what they seem. While the girl rolls a huge snowball, her dog looks aside at a fantastic group of snow creatures. There is a car covered with snow, its headlights and bumper forming a smile. there is a friendly ghost with a pointed top and twig arms. A small snow animal with protruding leaves looking like spikes, like the other figures, may be the result of snow covering ordinary objects, but also of the girl’s creative play with her winter weather medium.
When she returns inside for a reviving cup of cocoa, there is a sense of Zen beauty and calmness as she closes her eyes, immersed in the moment. Her father, fallen asleep on the couch with the newspaper on his lap, is also resting, but in the more mundane adult way. Meanwhile, the dog watches the blizzard outside with an expression of unmodified excitement. Only a child strikes that perfect balance between anticipation and living in the present.
There is an element of fantasy in some of the pictures, while others are familiar scenes of snow play and its pleasures. “Snow hides,” reads the text, and the little girl is half hidden, face down and up to her waist. Nothing is frightening here; pretending gives her the power to both have fun with nature as it is and push the limits of the possible.
The bird’s eye view of a snow-covered town at night features flying scarves and big stylized snowflakes over the serene scene.
Then there is the little red bird hidden on every page. Sometimes he is brightly obvious, at others obscured by his surroundings. Scott has subtly varied the bird’s shade of red, as well as his size and placement, in different scenes. By the time spring arrives, the reader is delighted at the deep green trees and bright leaves, but also a little sad. There’s always next winter.