My Winter City – written by James Gladstone, illustrated by Gary Clement
Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press, 2019
It’s July, which seems like a good time to enthuse about My Winter City, a beautiful tribute to a snowy day in a busy urban center. This past winter in New York we had significant snow for the first time in several years which, for some young children, was the first time ever. I believe the book is set in Toronto (where author James Gladstone lives); one picture seems to be the Allan Gardens Conservatory. But the book is also a reflection on the way in which snowfall, an unpredictable gift, transforms even a place so otherwise full of action and possibility.
Gladstone’s text is poetic, full of images, rhythm, and metaphor. Whether Toronto, New York, or any metropolis, “My winter city is a soup of salty slushes, full of sliding buses…” where a boy dreams of all he shares in common with other residents. Footprints make him wonder “Who walked here before,” and “rows of locked bicycles, buried and waiting,” remind him of winter’s power, changing the normal speed of the city to “the sluggish speed of snow.” While it may seem obvious, at least to adults, that natural events can produce inconvenience, or worse, to a child the sudden change of environment is a joy.
While many books about snow put young children at the center, this one focuses on a school-age child, as well as a father with the patience to enjoy the change along with him. The child is old enough to articulate his feelings, and to understand that the bond between him and his father is an essential part of the wonder. At the beginning of the day, the two prepare to go out together. At nighttime, his father carries him to bed, although the boy seems old enough that this ritual may no longer be a daily one. Walking through the city, the boy’s visible breath in the cold is the counterpart to ice crystals in his father’s beard.
Snow in the city sometimes begins inside, when you first see it outside the window. Illustrator Gary Clements (also a Toronto resident) balances all the perspectives from which snow appears. The beginning scene of father putting on coats and boots shows no snow at all, just the white door to their home ready to open. We see snow from the eye level of the boy and his dog, with adult feet walking in boots, and snow viewed from the window of a bus, although some of the passengers are absorbed in their phones.
There is snow while sledding down a hill in the park, and snow landing on a variety of storefronts. There is an incredible bird’s eye view, or skyscraper window view, of cars moving through the storm, caught in slow motion. Finally, there is a sleeping child under a blanket, dreaming of the blanket of snow which had enveloped his day.
My Winter City is a truly original take on the timeless, if transient, promise of snow.