Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Snow Book

While on a recent overnight getaway to Cincinnati, my partner Mark and I visited a used bookstore called, simply enough, the Ohio Bookstore. The website for this bookstore states that, distributed over its five floors, it has over 300,000 books and magazines in stock. I only had time to browse two of its five floors, but I believe their claim. I ended up spending a hundred dollars on used children's books and left with two shopping bags of books. Over the next several months, I'll share some of my finds on this blog.

Because it was recently requested that I feature it, I'm going to start with a non-fiction work called "The Snow Book," by Eva Knox Evans, published by Little, Brown and Company in 1965, with illustrations by Aldren A. Watson. Other than the fact that the author won the Jane Addams Children's book award in 1953 for another of her titles, "People Are Important," I was unable to find any other biographical information on her, though judging by the number of her books that are available through Amazon, she seemed to be a quite prolific non-fiction author. Though "The Snow Book," is out of print, there are used copies readily available through Amazon. If you are interested in a copy for yourself, you can click on the link in the book's title.

What convinced me to buy this book though, were the beautiful illustrations by Aldren A. Watson (Watson, who is also a woodworker has also written several books, including "The Blacksmith," and "Country Furniture"). When I first glanced through this book, it flipped open to one of several two-page spreads. I think this one of a man shoveling snow on a rural road, is the first one that caught my eye (click on any of these illustrations to see them larger). All of the book's illustrations are done in this style - black graphite or (or is it conte crayon?) lines, with the shadows colored in a beautiful aqua blue.  The snow is indicated by allowing the white of the paper to show through. The composition of this image with its curved road in the foreground, invites the viewer to enter the scene. Our eye begins with the man in the road, shoveling snow by a group of mailboxes.  The man appears to have stopped shoveling for a second and seems to be watching the truck that has just passed by.  We follow his gaze down the road to the truck that is plowing the road. We then notice a figure opposite the truck, who appears to be waving to the driver. From there we wander further into the scene and see another figure walking across the snow covered landscape. From there our eye wanders up to the snow covered hills. As our eye moves up and to the right, we come back to the foreground by moving down the tree that anchors the right edge of the scene. It's a beautiful illustration, one that keeps your eye moving and leaves you with the desire to study it and revisit it.

I'd say that the book is probably written for a 4th or 5th grade level, but it's a wonderful little book for anyone who wants to know more about this natural phenomenon. It explains what snow is, what makes it fall, how it is plowed, how people travel across it, how it is predicted, how it can be induced artificially (Chapter 8 "The Snow Gun") and what happens when it begins to melt away. Above each chapter heading, is an illustration. One of my favorites is the illustration for Chapter 4 "Snowshoes and Dogsleds." In this image, the illustrator has cleverly given us a cut-away side view that lets us see what is hidden by the high drifts of snow. On top of the snow, a man trudges along in his snowshoes. The fence he is walking towards is half-hidden by the height of the snow, and the artist allows the viewer to see just how deep the snow is, through his clever cross-section.

Here is another chapter heading illustration that I think is quite beautiful, this one from Chapter 2 "What is Snow?"

There are also images sprinkled throughout the margins of the book. In the section devoted to Wilson Bentley, the famous snowflake photographer, we see images of Bentley and his microscope, his camera and the different types of snowflakes.
 One of my favorites of these margin illustrations is this one that depicts the shadow of an airplane as it passes over a tiny figure standing beside a house that is half buried in the snow. I love the unusual perspective of this illustration. It's almost like the artist has invited us to sit alongside the pilot of the plane.

Earlier, I mentioned that the book contained several illustrations that spanned two pages. Here are several of the others. In case you are wondering where the page gutter is in these scans, I have attempted to remove the dividing gutter in all of these two-page illustrations, through some Photoshop manipulation. 


  1. These are fine tinted drawings. The individual illustrations show the importance of a light source. That's a refreshing blue.

  2. That's a good point David, the importance of a light source, which can be seen in all of these examples. And yes, I agree, it is a most refreshing blue.