Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What to Read After the First Snowfall of the Year

It snowed here in northwestern New Jersey yesterday. The first snowfall of each year is, of course, the most magical one. It begs twirling and touching, and leaning one's head back with a tongue out for collecting flakes. The first snowfall of the year reminds us that miracles and mysteries are happening in the sky. Subsequent snowstorms, at least for adults, are more about shoveling than sharing. In our family, we love a beautiful and inspiring picture book called Snowflake Bentley, which captures the wonder of snow. This Caldecott medal winning book written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated with woodcuts by Mary Azarian, tells the story of Wilson Bentley. He was born in Vermont in 1865, and in the author's words, "Willie Bentley's happiest days were snowstorm days. He watched snowflakes fall on his mittens, on the dried grass of Vermont farm fields, on the dark metal handle of the barn door. He said snow was as beautiful as butterflies or apple blossoms." As a boy, Bentley observed snowflakes under an old microscope and drew scores of snow crystals. Often the crystals melted before he could record them. As a teenager, he longed for a camera with its own microscope. Part of the beauty of this book is its illustrations, part is Bentley's enthusiasm, and a great part is the fact that his dairy farming parents spent their savings to help him buy that camera. Over the years and with much experimentation, Bentley was able to make hundreds of pictures of snow crystals even though his Vermont neighbors laughed at the idea of photographing something so common. Though he never became wealthy, in his lifetime he did publish a book of his photographs and receive recognition from scientists for his contributions. It was he who revealed the hexagonal shape and infinite possibility of designs in snowflakes. Snowflake Bentley is the perfect book to read once warm inside after enjoying the first snowfall of the year. It's also ideal in any season to encourage children to follow their passions and interests.

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