Ice cover
Cover illustration
See permission.
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.

illus. by Arthur Geisert

On an isolated, treeless island in the watery back of beyond, a community of pigs lives in tiny A-frame structures tented against the punishing sun. Their cistern is so low that a bucket brigade has to descend therein to haul water up to the houses. Everyone is drooping, and even the electric fan fails to bring relief. But if these pigs are staring Death in the face, they show no signs of worry. A calm, smiling committee of men, women, and children (okay—boars, sows, and piglets) consults a globe and springs into action. A ship that was apparently grounded on the edge of the island is called back into service as the elaborate gondola of an airship, and a plucky expedition is off to northern seas to procure an iceberg. Moored to the island, the berg is sawed up into blocks of ice, which are then hoisted into the cistern; a lively pool party ensues, and soon the residents are enjoying piped-in water, pitchers of iced drinks, and improvised air conditioning.

Geisert’s signature wordless books have always been distinguished for the intricate kludges that power piggy technology, and Ice is no exception. Two epicenters of technical delight invite viewers to marvel at porcine inventiveness. First is the water supply system, rendered as a simple but effective array of conduit that connects the massive stone cistern with the individual houses, where convenient hand pumps are located right at each doorway. And then there’s the ship: provocatively high and dry at the book’s opening, the craft reveals its true nature as the adventurers ready her for the journey. The metal contraption on deck proves to be a boiler, which inflates massive red balloons with hot air, while square-rigged sails catch the wind aloft. The extra mast, yard, and furled sails that dangle below the keel on the outbound trip are ultimately attached to the iceberg; guided by a rudder that’s manned (pigged?) by a small crew, the iceberg is towed home. While one landing party disassembles the rigging, the awaiting islanders build the gangplanks and hoists to move ice from berg to cistern. The whole operation is accomplished with a “No problem, no worries” insouciance that turns menacing drought into a group lark, proving the old adage “Many hooves make light work.”

Although these pigs demonstrate the wondrous resourcefulness that Geisert fans have come to expect, it’s their surreal setting that steals the show. This title is as much about big questions as small details, and the audience is compelled to ponder and create a backstory that can account for the community’s predicament and its quirky resolution. Did the pigs choose to settle on such a barren outpost, or was the island scoured bare by some natural or manmade disaster? Did they arrive by airship, or did they modify a seagoing vessel? (Geisert aficionados who go way back might even wonder whether this is the last vestige of a dismantled Ark.) What do they eat? Does their airship make regular supply forays? How did they build their cistern? And how, for the love of Mike, do they power that electric fan? Each answered question helps the reader plot a unique Choose Your Own Adventure–style narrative, which can range from nerdy technological conjecture to ambitious myth-making.

Although the exigencies of Bulletin headings demand the application of an age/grade code, this is about as close to a true All Ages title as you can get. Etchings tinted in colors that recall antique maps (cartographical uncertainty acknowledged, perhaps, with a marginal speculation, “Here there be Piggies”?) boast an appeal that crosses generations, and the absence of text allows pre-, non-, and skilled readers to meet on common ground. Although the small trim size suggests solo reading or a small, tightly huddled group of viewers, even the dullest of Geisert’s pigs could figure out how to rig a document camera and projector to facilitate larger storytime sharing. This may be one of the most tantalizing story-starters since Van Allsburg’s Mysteries of Harris Burdick (BCCB 9/84); grab a chilled water bottle and let the discussions commence.

Elizabeth Bush, Reviewer


Ice cover

Cover image from Ice ©2011 by Arthur Geisert.  Used by permission of Enchanted Lion Books.

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This page was last updated on May 1, 2011.