Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Mary Azarian. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1998.
I wasn’t going to make any resolutions this year. Staying healthy amidst a pandemic seemed like enough of a challenge. But I’ve decided to post a review once a month, around the first of the month. I guess I missed that deadline, but at least I’m writing something. My creative writing has really taken a dive during this past year. So, here’s my post for January, 2021.
Many readers will already be familiar with Snowflake Bentley. For those of you who are not this is the perfect time of year to read it. “In the days when farmers worked with ox and sled and cut the dark with lantern light, there lived a boy who loved snow more than anything else in the world.”
Wilson Bentley was born in 1865 in Vermont where the annual snowfall is about 120 inches. “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.” The first double spread woodcut illustration, tinted with lots of blue and white watercolor, evokes a serene winter evening. A young Willie spreads out his arms as if trying to collect snowflakes as they fall. A large farmhouse is in the background, tucked into the hills.
The story goes on to say that Willie could net butterflies, and pick apple blossoms, “But he could not share snowflakes because he could not save them.” His mother gave him a microscope and he used it to look at all manner of things, but mostly he used it to study snow crystals. Willie wanted to figure out a way to save their unique beauty. He tried drawing them, but they melted too fast. Even so, “Starting at age fifteen he drew a hundred snow crystals each winter for three winters.” When he was seventeen his parents bought him a camera with a microscope.
Sidebars explain Willie’s failures and successes, the process he used to take the photos and how he “edited” them using a sharp knife to cut away the dark parts of the negative. This is the perfect book to begin a lesson on crystals.
Snow Crystals by W.A. Bentley and W. J. Humphreys is the book Wilson Bentley wrote and contains 2,453 of his snow crystal photos. The plates are black and white and quite stunning. The edition pictured is a paperback, but it is an exact copy of the original. It was published by Dover, Mineola, NY, 1962. The book was originally published by McGraw-Hill in 1931.
I’m going to have fun exploring snow and ice crystals with two little girls this week. I hope you have someone to share such a lesson with also.