Snowflake Bentley
written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
illustrated by Mary Azarian

Jacqueline Briggs Martin's Snowflake Bentley
Caldecott winning illustrations by Mary Azarian

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 4-8

I remember as a child my parents presenting me with a stamp collecting kit. I think they were hoping to get me interested in something (at least something other than Gilligan's Island!). It didn't really catch on.

A little later in my life, I remember coming across a family who was living off-grid in the desert beside a mountain. The couple had two sons, ages seven and five.

The older boy was absolutely fascinated with rocks. He collected them, studied them and wanted nothing more than to talk to you about them. Despite his tender age, he was already a scholar. His parents nurtured his fascination by providing everything he could want to pursue his course of self-study.

His younger brother liked rocks too. He liked rolling them down the mountain and seeing how much havoc they could wreak.

Different kids, different outcomes.

Snowflake Bentley is the story of a real child who, from his earliest days, had a fascination with snow. Each individual flake.

You see, before this Vermont farmboy came along, no one in human history had bothered to notice that each individual snowflake was unique. No one had cared enough to look and investigate.

Wilson Bentley cared enough. In fact, it was pretty much all he cared about. Fortunately he had parents willing to indulge his obsession.

They got him the expensive microscope he wanted. Then they got him the (even more expensive) camera with its own microscope.

After over a year of trial and error, young "Snowflake" Bentley pioneered a technique to capture the image of a snowflake on a negative. Review continues.

Studying snowflakes!

Snowflake Bentley is a picture book biography of a boy - then a man - with a passion. In summer he pursued study of spider webs in all their uniqueness. But winters were all about the snow.

W.A. Bentley's gorgeous Snow Crystals, published in 1931, remains the text to start with for any serious study of snow.

And Snowflake Bentley, with its Caldecott Medal-winning woodcut illustrations, hand tinted with watercolors, is the text to start with for learning what it's like to be totally interested.

I wonder what might have happened if my parents had presented me with a book like this, instead of the stamp collecting kit. Not that I would have begun studying snow, but that I would have been given permission to develop an interest in any subject of my own choosing.

I suspect I might have spent less time with Gilligan and the other castaways!

Think of Snowflake Bentley in that way: as a way to offer your child the opportunity to discover a real interest. His or her own interest. (Besides TV, video games and the cell phone.)

A children's book about snow. It just might work!

More award winners.

More children's books about winter.

Read more of Steve's reviews.

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