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Sunday, December 25, 2016

Before Morning, written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2016. $24.99 ages 3 and up

"In the deep woolen dark,

as we slumber unknowing,

let the sky fill with flurry
and flight.

Let the air turn to feathers,

the earth turn to sugar ... "

Joyce Sidman chooses to write an invocation as text for this wonderful third collaboration between two fine artists. She explains it in an afterword:

"How powerful are words? Can they make things happen? Stop them from happening? Can they rotect us? Comfort us? Enchant us? This book is written in the form of an invocation - a poem that invites something to happen, often asking for help or support. Humans have been using invocations for thousands of years, to soothe the body and strengthen the soul. Do they work? Maybe."

Kids aren't the only ones who long for snow days - that inability to pursue the many obligations and activities that accompany most other days. When snow falls heavily, leaving roads nearly impassable, shops closed, transportation tied up, we can all appreciate the peace, quiet and real beauty it brings to our world. If we are lucky, everyone is together to enjoy it.

As we open the cover of this amazing book, the endpapers show a dark and cloudy sky with planes flying in all directions, and a landscape of city streets and roads. The title page has pigeons on the cobblestones; a woman, a child and a dog are walking past. One more turn sees the three leaving the park onto a bustling street filled with passing cars and many walkers. They seem to be headed home. No time to stop and savor the enticements in the bakery window, the child and mother finally climb the steps to their front door.

The child seems sad. Then, we notice a suitcase with a pilot's hat lying on top. After dinner, mom and daughter share a story about Amelia Earhart. The child has the pilot's hat hidden behind it. The invocation begins as we watch mom folding laundry while the family sleeps. She is headed to the airport,  just as the snow begins to fall. The simple, meaningful plea for snow is placed on beautifully detailed full page spreads - it is a wish to slow down and spend time together. As luck would have it (or does wishing make things happen?), the snow blankets everything.

Mom arrives at an airport lounge filled with waiting passengers, and looks out at a tarmac where nothing but snow plows are on the move. No flights tonight. She finds her way home in time to have breakfast with her thankful family, ready for a day of fun. Wish granted!

It is almost impossible to fully describe the scratchboard and watercolor wintry images! They are filled with warmth, light, and the gentle beauty of a winter snow, as well as the joy found in a loving family. You will not want to miss one tiny detail. As happens rarely, this is one of those perfect pairings of text and art - we are blessed to be able to share it.

If you want to see even more wonder from the two, please check out Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature (Houghton Mifflin, 2011) and Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow (Houghton Mifflin, 2006). You won't be disappointed.

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