A young girl, who lives in the Arctic tundra with her grandfather, yearns for more color in her surroundings. In her snow-filled world, she sees her fair share of white. She’ll occasionally see gray, but “gray is still a shade of white.” Nights don’t give the girl any more hope for color: Winter days in the tundra are as dark as night.
But the girl’s grandfather has a secret, and it’s a good one: the Northern Lights. One night, he leads his granddaughter to a snowy mountain, and they—and the friends they gathered on their trek there—take in the colors dancing across the sky and “forget all about the cold.”
Author Danna Smith lays out this tale in a present-tense, second-person voice (“When you live in the Arctic in winter . . . ”), which places the reader right in the center of the story and gives the book immediacy. She includes the types of details about snowy landscapes that will snag even city-dwelling children who live where there’s little of the white stuff. Even footprints are white when you live in the Arctic, Smith notes as the girl and her family and friends trudge up the mountain to watch the light show.
The book’s watercolors are dominated by grays, browns and whites, and illustrator Lee White manages to bring texture to the snow and keep the landscapes varied, despite the sameness that makes the girl weary. The two Northern Light spreads are vivid and shimmering with color. Both author and illustrator seem to be going for a genericized setting and grandfather-granddaughter pair. It’s not clear in precisely which North Pole region they make their home, and their igloo home and clothing are also not terribly detailed or specific. The bond between the two makes this a multigenerational tale; they each seem to be the only family they have for one another.
It’s a wintertime read, one that brings color to the coldest of days.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.