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Once Upon a Northern Night

by Jean E. Pendziwol; Isabelle Arsenault, illus.

A parent’s vision of a wintry Northern idyll leaps beautifully to life in this collaboration by author Jean E. Pendziwol and illustrator Isabelle Arsenault.

As a young child sleeps snugly inside the comfort of a warm farmhouse, the magic of a winter night takes hold outside. Animals awaken, snow swirls, and winds whisper. This is the nostalgic season of yesteryear.

Pendziwol draws inspiration from the landscape and geography of Northern Ontario, and her affection for this region shows clearly in her writing. Older readers will find themselves entranced by the care and beauty in Pendziwol’s poetic narration, while those at the younger end of the scale will walk away with an expanded vocabulary. Snow isn’t just “snow,” it is “sparkling specks of white”; a “downy blanket”; a “milky-white bowl”; “vanilla ice cream”; “diamonds on branches.” This aspect of the book offers opportunities for discussions about language and metaphor.

Pendziwol’s aptitude for creating the perfect image through carefully crafted phrasing (reminiscent in tone and cadence of Nancy Tillman’s 2006 classic, On the Night You Were Born) finds a fitting complement in Arsenault’s richly layered scenes composed of seemingly simple elements. The softened edges and muted colours evoke feelings of warmth and peace, both befitting a gentle country snowfall. Tones of grey, white, taupe, and blue dominate, with occasional splashes of colour that brighten the images and add an element of surprise. The fox, in particular, makes a delightfully vibrant entrance onto the page.

Once Upon a Northern Night offers an enchanting interplay of text and illustration that grows richer with each turn of the page, and seems destined to join the ranks of winter-themed classics to be reached for year after year.