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Big Picture
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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

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.

The Snow Globe Family

by Jane OConnor; illustrated by S. D. Schindler

Much like the snowfalls of winter, the books of winter initially elicit eager anticipation of wintry pleasures, which quickly turns to disappointment and the need to shovel piles of excess out of the way; fortunately, there are those sparkling examples of both that make the world seem new again. Such a book is The Snow Globe Family.

While the official residents of the big house on the hill are a cheerful nineteenth-century family, the stars of this book are the second family in residence: the attractive period snow globe on the mantle houses "a very little family," comprising, like the big family, a set of parents, a boy and a girl, and a baby. The snow-globe family loves snow, and Papa often regales his brood with stories of massive snowstorms past; unfortunately, only the baby in the big family knows the little family is there, so their hopes for a "great big snowstorm" remain unfulfilled. Finally, though, the baby manages to get her hands on the snow globe, giving the little family the blizzard of their dreams in which to frolic, as the rest of the big family plays amid the snowfall outside of their house.

The concept is ingenious in several directions. Kids will understand the yearning for a good snowfall by both the big and the little families, and they'll relish the comic parallel between the two as they both wait for outside events to bring them the weather of their dreams. There's also the irresistible notion of animate toys, especially those living in a miniaturized version of our own world, a comparison here evoked with delicious particulars ("They are having dessert too, only their cups are so small, each one holds no more than half a drop of tea"; "They . . . tramp through the snow, leaving footprints smaller than the sprinkles on an ice cream cone"). The book doesn't rest on those laurels, however, but instead adds considerable flourish to those already inviting prospects. The mirroring between the two families plays up the miniaturization pleasures, with a faceoff between the little snow-globe baby and the big regular-person baby the impetus for the snow globe's shaking; the snow-globe family's robust enjoyment of their home's tempestuous qualities means that they're thrilled to hang from the chandelier as their house is tossed about (the image of proper little Papa getting tipped out of his bath will be a sure winner with young audiences).

Artist Schindler has already tackled wintry period art with great success (in Johnston's The Ghost of Nicholas Greebe, BCCB 10/96), and his precise, engraving-like lines are always well suited to early Americana. Though he doesn't lose sight of his season or time, he's here appropriately more cheery than spooky; the palette of his watercolor and gouache colors has its cool and wintry touches, with lavender shadows predominating in the gaslit interiors and twilight outdoor scenes, but there's a lively complement in the rich gold tones of furniture and wall color and the festive deep jewel tones of the little family's indoor and outdoor garb. It's particularly nice that the big family is no stiff and stuffy Victorian stereotype but rather a clan as possessed of joie de vivre and evident enjoyment as the snowglobers, albeit in their own more decorous way. The artist cunningly and quietly ties the families together with his end visions of the two sleeping households, with the big family viewed through the exterior windows as if they too were miniature folk viewed by oversized outsiders--which, in terms of the book and its viewers, they of course are.

The book teasingly closes on a winking suggestion of impending action: the text suggests that the next big snowstorm "might come very soon" as illustrations show the family cat perched on the mantle and fixing on a mouse just the other side of the snow globe. In the meantime, however, all is peace as everybody settles down for the night after their snowy exertions. The bedtime conclusion for both families points this for use as an imaginative bedtime story, perfect for a snowy night where a youngster can look out the window at the frosty world just waiting for exploration the next day, but don't limit its use--this snowy gem sparkles in any setting.

Deborah Stevenson, Editor


Big Picture Image

Cover image by S. D. Schindler from The Snow Globe Family 2006. Used by permission of G. P. Putnams Sons.

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This page was last updated on December 1, 2006.