Why Snow Casts Such a Spell – The New York Times

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Picture Books

WHERE SNOW ANGELS GO
Written by Maggie O’Farrell
Illustrated by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini
THE SNOWMAN AND THE SUN
Written by Susan Taghdis
Illustrated by Ali Mafakheri
Translated by Azita Rassi
When winter comes to our part of Alaska, often by the end of October, we grown-ups tend to focus on the work ahead. There are driveways to plow, walkways to shovel, wood to chop. Children, however, are quick to remind us that snow also brings delight.
Each year when our daughters were young, the first flurry would have them rushing outdoors to build snowmen and make snow angels. Lying on their backs, flapping their arms and legs as the snowflakes drifted down, they fully and joyfully welcomed the return of winter.
Two new children’s books, from different parts of the world and with very different approaches, offer a similar reminder: There is something magical about snow.
Adult readers are likely to recognize the author of “Where Snow Angels Go.” Maggie O’Farrell has won numerous awards for her memoir and novels, including “Hamnet,” which was selected by The New York Times Book Review as one of the 10 Best Books of 2020. This is her first children’s book.
When young Sylvie opens her eyes to find a snow angel, with silvery-blue skin and icy curls, tiptoeing across her room, she wants to know who he is and why he is there. The angel is fretful — children aren’t supposed to see their snow angels. But he explains that he watches over her and helps to keep her safe, and when he discovers that Sylvie is sick with a fever, he goes to wake her mother.
In an author’s note, O’Farrell shares the personal experience that sparked the idea. In the back of an ambulance on the way to the hospital, her own daughter was in anaphylactic shock, frightened and cold, but O’Farrell assured her the cold was her snow angel “wrapping his wings around you.”
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Over time, Sylvie recovers from her illness, but she doesn’t forget her snow angel. She concocts a variety of schemes to try to bring him back, without success. Later that summer, however, she’s playing at the seaside when she nearly drowns. She’s saved by a mysterious and icy wave that seems to pick her up and carry her to safety.
She discovers that she can’t force the snow angel to appear on a whim, but when she needs him he will be there. In the end, she needs his help with a plan that will touch everyone she knows, and as promised he appears.
“There was a blast of chill air, a clatter, and a great clap, like thunder, and there he was, crouching on the icy grass, his robes pooled around him, his wing feathers fluttering in the air.”
At 72 pages, with a significant amount of text, “Where Snow Angels Go” will be best enjoyed by older children, 7 to 10, either read aloud by an adult or on their own, depending on their reading level.
O’Farrell’s touching, slightly eerie story is rendered beautifully by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini. Her intricate illustrations, washed in blue, have the classic look of ink and watercolor. Delicate snowflakes, feathers and snow angels cartwheel across the pages.
Terrazzini’s gentle touch with color and detail reminded me of Tasha Tudor’s illustrations for “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” a book I read as a child. Since its artwork is paired so well with the poetry of the words, “Where Snow Angels Go” has the feel of a timeless bedtime story.
“The Snowman and the Sun,” written by Susan Taghdis and illustrated by Ali Mafakheri, is another charming picture book. Taghdis was a founder of the Iranian Association of Writers for Children and Youth and devoted much of her career to writing for preschoolers. She died in 2020.
Translated from Farsi, the story is told from the perspective of the snowman. On a warm day, he wonders what will happen to him when the sun gets too hot. But unlike with “Frosty the Snowman,” this is just the beginning of the story.
When the snowman melts, he turns to water that runs over the ground: “The ground tickled him.” The watery snowman then transforms into water droplets that float up to the sky, where he becomes a chilly cloud.
As the air cools, he turns back into snow and floats to the ground in the form of snowflakes.
He sees the little boy who first made him into a snowman looking out from the window of his house. “Make a snowman of me!” he calls to the boy, and so the story comes full circle.
What I loved about this deceptively simple book is all the potential the story holds for conversations between the adult reading out loud and the child listening. In an engaging, whimsical way, it teaches children about the water cycle. On a deeper level, it also speaks to the cycles of change and loss that we all encounter throughout a lifetime.
The images deserve just as much attention. Mafakheri studied art, design and filmmaking in Tehran and Paris and has illustrated dozens of children’s books. Incorporating a graph paper grid in the background and a cheerful, crayon-like texture, his art is as forthright and comforting as the text, but there is also a humorous quality to it.
On one page a bee flies through the air; several pages later the same bee is pedaling a bicycle. A white cat makes similar entertaining appearances.
With the help of a grown-up, even very young children will be able to locate repeating images from page to page. The experience is reminiscent of reading Margaret Wise Brown’s “Goodnight Moon.” Where is the snowman’s black hat? There it is on the snowman’s head, but on another page it has moved; now it’s perched on top of a building; and later it’s riding along on the boy’s umbrella.
Both these picture books celebrate the joy and magic of snow, while offering nuanced lessons about the world around us and the care we show each other as one season passes to the next.
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