Review: Once Upon a Northern Night by Jean E. Pendziwol

once upon a northern night

Once Upon a Northern Night by Jean E. Pendziwol, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

This glimmering book takes a lingering and loving look at a Canadian winter night.  It starts just before the snow begins to fall, one flake then more.  Then the ground is covered with a snowy blanket, a blanket just like the one you are sleeping under.  The book goes on to talk about the beauty of the winter forest, snow that will dust your head and nose as you pass under the trees.  Animals appear; the deer munch on the frozen apples, a great gray owl silently drifts by, rabbits scamper only going still when the fox walks past.  The book continues to talk about the beauty of the snow once the sky clears, the patterns of frost on window panes.  It ends with the dazzle of the snowy morning.

As a native of Wisconsin, this Canadian import speaks directly to my love of winter evenings, nights and days.  This lullaby of a book opens each poetic stanza with “Once upon a northern night…” and then leads into another beautiful wonder that is present there.  Northern readers will see their own love reflected here, others will start to understand the beauty and exquisite nature of winter.  Pendziwol plays with imagery and truly finds the wonder in each moment she captures.  It is pure beauty, glittery as snow but oh so much warmer.

Arsenault’s illustrations are done in nighttime sepia tones, the color drained away except for pops of frozen apples, owl eyes, fox orange and deep night sky blues.  The snow itself makes up much of the images, dancing in the air, covering branches, capturing footprints.  One can almost feel the coldness seep from the page.  Then there is the final page with morning arriving that is suddenly color and ends the book just perfectly with its icy shimmer.

This picture book is perfect for a bedtime story curled up near the fire or under toasty warm blankets as the snow falls.  It is a quiet and lovely book, one to treasure and share.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Jasper’s Story by Jill Robinson

jaspers story

Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears by Jill Robinson and Marc Bekoff, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen

Held captive for years by bear “farmers” who kept him in a too-small cage and harvested bile from his body, Jasper’s story is representative of many captive moon bears.   Now Jasper has been rescued by Animals Asia, an animal welfare organization.  He is taken to their Moon Bear Rescue Center where his medical needs are attended to and he is put into the sanctuary.  There, Jasper walks on grass for the first time in his life.  Caregivers work to teach Jasper how to find food on his own, hiding food in toys and places to dig.  In time, Jasper’s life starts to change.  He begins to play more, get stronger, and make friends.  Jasper is one success story among many, a testament to what rescue can do to save animals that might have been considered too damaged to rescue.

Robinson and Bekoff write in a very engaging way in this nonfiction picture book.  They invest time in telling the story of the abuse as well as painting a beautiful picture of moon bears in the wild: “Far away in the mist-covered mountains of China, the moon sends yellow arcs of light across the hills, softly painting the forests with a luminous glow.”  They describe the way that wild animals sleep with a sense of freedom.  The prose is beautiful, clearly painting the value of these animals and the importance of their rescue and rehabilitation.

The illustrations are equally evocative.  The paintings have a wonderful sense of place, showing the workers at the sanctuary and the horror of the small cages with equal attention.  I particularly like the way that the opening image relates to that at the end, showing that Jasper is once again more like the wild moon bears than the abused ones. 

A great book on the importance of animal rehabilitation and rescue, this book will speak volumes to every child who picks it up and meets Jasper.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.