Having loved the softly falling snowflakes that covered campus in a beautiful white blanket, and understanding the excitement of thousands of Nashville school children when schools were unexpectedly cancelled, I was excited while perusing the bookshelves, to find a book that had both the word Snowflake in its title and a Caldecott Medal on its cover. Snowflake Bentley might be just the book to read the next time it snows.
Awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1999, the book is a biography of Wilson Bentley told in the third person narrative. Born in 1865 on a farm in Vermont, Wilson loved nature, but his “happiest days were snowstorm days.” In this book which is set in a bygone era and with illustrations that capture a more simple time, Wilson’s fascination with snow, snowflakes and ultimately photography is revealed. Home schooled till the age of 14, the reader joins Wilson as he pursues his passion of discovering the intricate patterns of snowflakes. At first he looked at snowflakes through a microscope and tried to draw them, but later Wilson used a special camera with a microscope that he had received for his 17th birthday, to photograph the snowflakes. In a few short years Wilson developed the tools he needed to uncover his dream and began to photograph the beauty in each individual snowflake. Wilson’s fascination lasted his entire life and he was recognized “as the world’s expert on snow.” He discovered how snowflakes are formed, each perfectly symmetrical, each one of a kind, wrote books, sold his photographs of snowflakes to colleges and universities for further study, had his photographs published in magazines, shared them with neighbors at outdoor slide shows and lectured on the topic.
Briggs Martin’s text allows the reader to either hear the big story, or find out even more from the additional information included in the black encased sidebars alongside each page, while Azarian’s woodcuts capture Wilson’s life and passion. These woodcut prints painted with water colors, create an image of rural life that allow the reader to witness the beauty that surrounded Wilson. Each illustration is independent from the text, allowing Azarian to provide the reader her own adaptation of Wilson’s story. The last page of the book has three actual images of snowflakes that Wilson photographed.
Hopefully spring will come soon, but in case we see more snow, this is an interesting book to share with students about the man who revealed to the world that no two snowflakes are the same. Wilson’s ability to dream big even when so many laughed at his interests, is a reminder to all curious students that with commitment, perseverance and dedication, the impossible may be achievable.
– Michelle Sandler