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Snow Story

by Nancy Hundal, Kasia Charko, illus.

This book has “beautiful” written all over it, full of deep snowdrifts and cozy three-storey Victorian houses with your own beautiful room at the top. Written in the lyrical style of Hundal’s award-winning I Heard My Mother Call My Name, it mixes e.e. cummings-like phrasings such as “snow-joyed” and “fingers pocket-fumbling” with a candid, childlike tone. The child is bright, imaginative Chloe: she looks to be about seven, and she’s good at amusing herself, which is good, because she’s been snowed in – school, dance lessons, and dentist appointments all cancelled.

Text and pictures effectively capture the stillness and sense of wonder of a civilization stopped in its tracks. What’s odd is that the snowstorm seems also to have mysteriously decimated the population: besides Chloe and her mother, the only other person we see in the neighbourhood is the grumpy snow-hater across the street. Of course Chloe’s isolation is an essential element in the book’s effect, but it is also puzzling: though Chloe lives in a city, why is she the only child who goes outside to play in winter? What does this say about childhood in our culture?

Hundal is a Vancouverite, and Charko, originally from England, now lives in Alton, Ontario. Their geographic spread must account for the story’s hybrid setting. Hundal’s text takes place on the coast; on the fourth day, “a glint of sunny gold far out on the ocean” tugs at Chloe’s eye. Charko’s pictures, on the other hand, are not only snowbound but landlocked – and when it snows and snows for five days and melts miraculously on the sixth, we know we’re not in Ontario. The non-specificity of place seems to have been a conscious decision, for those cardinals and blue jays surely couldn’t have made it all the way to the Pacific. A child, however, bewitched by Charko’s elegant pictures, is unlikely to be as picky, and will simply long for winter and a supersnow like Chloe’s.