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The Bulletin
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The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.

Perkins, Lynn Rae. Snow Music; written and illus. by Lynn Rae Perkins.
Greenwillow, 2003 [32p]
Library ed. ISBN 0-06-623958-3 $16.89
Trade ed. ISBN 0-06-623956-7 $15.99
Reviewed from galleys
5-8 yrs

There’s something magical about the way snow changes a world, softening the edges of the familiar landscape and inviting adventure, and a host of picture books, including most famously Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day (BCCB 12/62), have explored the phenomenon. Lynne Rae Perkins’ Snow Music is a splendid addition to that frosty gallery, making its own original contribution to the subject in its unassuming yet imaginative depiction of the way snow affects the sound of the world, resulting in, of course, snow music.

The setting is a small town, wherein the landscape changed when “snow came singing a silent song” last night; come morning all has been transformed. When a boy opens his kitchen door to marvel at the view, his dog slips past him out into the neighborhood. As the bundled-and-booted child searches for his busily wandering dog, he traverses a countryside filled with other animals (and a few vehicles) also out exploring, and he meets a friend who helps him dog-track. Eventually, after the sun has warmed the earth and begun to melt the snow, the boy finds and retrieves his dog and returns home; come nightfall, soft snow begins to fall again, covering up the brown grass exposed by the day’s thaw.

The low-anxiety wandering-dog plot serves as a useful focus, but the real point here is, as the title suggests, the sound of a world newly blanketed in snow. Perkins conducts her snow music like a symphony, providing the audience with sound-effect parts: “Everyone whisper: peth peth peth . . . ” begins the book in an evocation of the sound of falling snow, and cleverly notated musical staves document the music of the exploring dog (his panting breath punctuated by his jingling tags) and passing vehicles (with their crunching wheels and muffled radio). Smaller melodies, such as the sound of a falling leaf on bared pavement, are also carefully observed, and the steps of animals (including the pair of boys) are given an auditory evocation that combines with the visual: the squirrel’s busy, darting path (“I think—/I think/ I left it—/I think/ I left it/ here—/ somewhere . . . / I think”) trickles across the page in shaped text on one side of the spread laid out to mirror the illustrated pawprints on the other. Against this music is set softly rhythmic text couplets, lullingly documenting the changing weather and foraging animals, and brief dialogue, ringing in the chill air, from the boys searching for the dog.

Perkins’ watercolors aren’t just backdrop but are active players in this symphony. Her style is deft yet sturdily earthbound, with authentically nubbly and rumpled textures. As usual, she focuses not on dreamily picturesque neighborhoods rife with architectural gingerbread but on a modest collection of everyday houses, laced with utility lines and mesh fencing; this is therefore not a fairy-tale mist of snow but a more recognizable variety, with leftover tomato cages sticking up through the frosting and tire tread forming its own magical patterns. The artistic details have the same homely warmth as the style: a deer browses amid the frostbitten vegetables, a rabbit hops over the white lines on the asphalt road (searching for little critters in every spread is an entertaining pursuit in its own right), a child traces patterns in the breath-made fog on the inside of the car window. All together, this is an extraordinarily accurate expression of the winter experience, which will elicit immediate recognition from winter veterans and convey the special quality of a newly snow-tempered world to youngsters who’ve never experienced it. Read it aloud for the pure pleasure, or to inspire audiences to listen to their own seasonal music. (Imprint information appears on p. 164.)

Deborah Stevenson, Editor

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Cover illustration by Gerald McDermott from Creation ©2003. Used by permission of Dutton Children’s Books.

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This page was last updated on December 1, 2003.