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Book Reviews

Singing Away the Dark

by Caroline Woodward; Julie Morstad, illus.

It seems a parental (and grandparental) duty to inform children about the daily hardships of the past. These conversations often make note of the long-ago, mile-long, snowbound walk to school (usually uphill in both directions). The B.C. duo of author Caroline Woodward and illustrator Julie Morstad have taken this cliché and transformed it into a delicate, brilliantly perceptive picture book about a rural child’s long journey to the school bus.

When the steely blue darkness of a country­ winter morning becomes too frightening for a six-year-old girl, she begins to sing. Singing helps brighten the darkness, quiet the howling wind, and makes the cattle blocking the road seem less beastly. All ends happily when she sees headlights appear in the darkness and is embraced by the warmth of the school bus.

The frightened young girl in Singing Away the Dark finds comfort in her kinship with the natural world, a response that is both authentic and poetic. As her unease grows, she says, “I see a line of big, old trees, marching up the hill. ‘I salute you, Silent ­Soldiers. Help me if you will.’” There are no Disney moments with smiling, waving foliage, just a child finding an ally in nature. Similarly, her singing does not take the form of a contrived, triumphant musical ­number. Instead, the girl seems to be murmuring to herself, unselfconsciously lost in her imagination.

Morstad’s art further adds to the story’s charm with the vintage, cozy feel of a 1950s Christmas card. The images are part Clement Hurd and part Julie Flett, combining the style of a classic bedtime story with an acute awareness of the delicacy and fragility of nature. This quietly stunning tale empowers all young children – whether they get to school by snowshoe or SUV – to overcome fear with imagination.