The Snow Dragon

by Vivian French

illustrated by Chris Fisher

Published by Doubleday

32 pages, 1999

Omar on Ice

by Maryann Kovalski

Published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside

32 pages, 1999

 

The Rainbow Bear

by Michael Morpurgo

illustrated by Michael Foreman

Published by Doubleday

32 pages, 1999

 

 

 

 

 

Brilliance in Winter

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards

 

When you're barely tall enough to see out the window and you can't even reach the gas pedal in the car, let alone drive, winter takes on a whole different look. After all, what small child ever bemoaned having to miss school because of a heavy snowfall? What growing human ever was saddened by an actual reason to go outside after winter weather has left its mark?

Let's face it: however we might feel about winter, to children it's a brilliant, beautiful time. It's a time fraught with possibilities for fun and even the potential for magic.

The Snow Dragon by Vivian French fairly encapsulates that childhood winter magic. Thanks to rich and masterful illustrations by Chris Fisher, The Snow Dragon is a startlingly beautiful book. As the story begins, French sets the book out with a few bold strokes:

In the beginning was a world, and it was divided into two halves. The Southern half was burning hot and ruled by ferocious Fire Dragons, but in the cold and icy North lived the peace-loving Snow Dragons.

Between these lands of extremes is a narrow band of green inhabited by the Twolegs who, not coincidentally, look quite a book like garden variety humans. The Snow Dragon is a gently epic tale involving both varieties of dragons and a brave young Twolegs called Little Tuft. Both French and Fisher work very well in the standard 32-page children's picture book format. The Snow Dragon feels more like a "real" book: the fact that the tale is broken into two distinct parts promotes this feeling as well as making this the kind of story that can be told over a couple of readings.

Omar on Ice, written and illustrated by Maryann Kovalski, is a charming book with a happy message. As the book opens, Omar the bear is contemplating being an artist when he grows up. At school he's disappointed because -- no matter what he does -- he can't draw as well as his classmates. Omar is frustrated because he wants to be able to draw more than anything else.

"I'm a bad artist," growled Omar.

"Maybe it's your paper," said Elsie.

"Maybe you need another kind of pencil," said Thomas.

"It's not my pencil. It's me," said Omar.

Omar threw his drawing away. "I'm just a bad artist," he said.

 

The bell rang for recess.

During recess, everyone hurries outside to skate: except Omar who is still upset by the drawing debacle. While his friends flounder about on the ice, Omar is roused from his self-pity to try and come to their aid. "You're trying too hard," he says finally. "The thing about skating is to have fun. It's easy when you don't worry. Watch."

At the risk of offering a spoiler (though fairly confident that not too many of this book's intended audience read review magazines) Omar not only skates with assured confidence, when he's done skating around his friends notice that he's made beautiful pictures in the ice with his skates.

Despite the obvious moral tale here, it's a charming story. Omar learns that, not only should he take joy in the things he does do well, he finds that he can even achieve his heart's desire if only he doesn't spend too much time worrying about it.

The Rainbow Bear begins well, then slides into a questionable moral tale that children might find unsettling. It begins with a polar bear on a great expanse of white. "I am snow bear. I am sea bear. I am white bear. I wander far and wide, king in my wild white wilderness."

In the first person -- er... bear -- the snow bear begins to tell his story. It starts off gently instructive with our bear dreaming in his den and thinking about the "hopping hares to pounce on" and "Plenty of frisking foxes." When -- in his imagination, one supposes: but things are getting a little unclear -- the bear follows a seal into the ocean:

Here all about me is whooping and whistling of whales. Here is groaning and grinding of ice. Here I am snow bear no more. I am green and blue and indigo and turquoise. Here I am sea bear.

Emerging from the sea, our bear sees a rainbow and is hit by a wave of acquisitiveness. "I knew at once I had to catch rainbow and make him mine." Which he does, though not without mishap and the help of an old shaman.

More than catch the rainbow, however, he becomes it: rainbow bear. A rainbow-colored bear with no hope of camouflage in the white expanse that is his home. He can't hunt or stalk anymore because it's too easy to see a rainbow-colored bear. And, finally, a ship comes for him. Weak with hunger, he's reasonably easy to catch. He ends up in a zoo where, needless to say, he's miserable. Finally a little boy senses his plight and tells him to make a wish at the end of the rainbow. The rainbow bear wishes for whiteness and for freedom, and the rest doesn't need to be told at this point. Suffice it to say that -- despite its potential -- the story is trite, the storytelling uncomfortable and the illustrations, despite the artist's billing as "one of the top international illustrators working today" are mostly facile. | February 2000

 

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several Books.