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I first read it back in April earlier this year, surrounded by a sea of people whirling about, chattering, elbow to elbow at a book conference. Despite the din of excited activity all around me, as I read Once Upon a Northern Night I quickly found myself inside one of those silent and perfectly still moments where the surrounding soundtrack fades to nothing, leaving a peacefulness where things can take you utterly by surprise.
Once Upon a Northern Night is a poem all about parental love. About how a parent looks at their sleeping child one evening and, with the magic intense love can provide, conjures up a wintry world full of wonder to gift to their child.
It’s a paean to nature’s beauty set against a snowy night-time backdrop. Pendziwol’s text (disguised as picture book prose) is some of the most beautiful I’ve read all year, set with those moments where description brings an unexpected focus to an everyday image, taking your breath away as you see it as if for the first, astonishing time.
Arsenault’s illustrations are masterpieces in the use of colour, even though they are primarily black, white and sepia. Accents of colour lift them off the page, acting like tangible manifestations of those poetic moments of startling, touching clarity. A certain (apparent) naivety in style acts as a foil to the rich prose, keeping our feet on the ground, ensuring the text’s tenderness never cloys but remains authentic and profoundly moving.
Every line is beautiful in this book, but one set of images caught my imagination in particular:
Once upon a northern night,
in the darkest hours,
the snowy clouds crept away
and stars appeared –
twinkling points of light
hanging in the purple sky.
I knew by the time you woke,
the sun would have chased them away,
so I set them like diamonds
on the branches of the willow.
This made me want to bring home stars for my two children I sought out old chandeliers in our local charity and junk shops and we spent an afternoon taking them to pieces, to create mounds of stars-disguised as diamonds.
We then re-threaded them with silver silk and “set them like diamonds / on the branches of the willow” in our back garden.
We also hung some up in the window of our front room and now when the morning sun shines it scatters rainbows across my workspace.
I didn’t make the connection straight away, but I do wonder if I was a little bit influenced in this enterprise by Pollyanna.
Lintuseni by Finno Balkan Voices. Hauntingly beautiful music.
BBC Radio 3 currently have a Northern Lights season and we’ve heard some gorgeous, haunting music as part of it, not least during their poetry-and-music-programme-on-a-theme, Words and Music, all about the North Pole.
Isabelle Arsenault’s illustrated children’s books Migrant, Spork, and Virginia Wolf have been much praised and received numerous awards, including two Governor General’s Awards. Her children’s graphic novel Jane, the Fox, & Me was published in 2013. She lives and works in Montreal.
I grew up using chopsticks, so whenever I am asked to set the table at a friend’s house, there is a moment of panic and stark reminder of how different I am even though I have called Canada home since I was three. (By the way, setting the table in an Asian family is easy [...]
A few weeks ago, I kept hearing about a new picture book illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. I had bookmarked her blog many, many years ago but had never read any books illustrated by her when this book jumped out from my library's shelves last week.
As the title implies, the story is about migrants. Specifically, it is about "The Low German-speaking Mennonites from Mexico" (per the jacket). I had never heard of them before, but I think the story works well to create empathy and understanding for any migrant community. The language, by Maxine Trottier, is so magical and evocative. I could picture no one but Isabelle Arsenault illustrating the words into such poetic images. Where the feelings of the young main character are characterized mostly as animals. It's harmonious, and dreamy, and everything we dream of creating ourselves - a picture book that stays with you.
I've long admired Isabelle Arsenault as an illustrator, so the eye candy of the cover and word of mouth put this on my wish list to read. But the magic that happens between the art and words makes this a book to cherish, revisit, dissect, and just enjoy.
The book is loosely based on the life of Virginia Woolf. Each spread is a marvel. The story, about two sisters (one having a terribly moody and wolfish day) spoke to a very personal and fragile part of myself and my own relationship with my older sisters. It's a beautiful story for children, but particularly relevant for those with older siblings prone to depression or moodiness.
by Kyo Maclear
illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Kids Can Press 2010
Neither Fork nor Spoon, can the lonely Spork find acceptance in the world?
Poor Spork. A misfit in the cutlery tray, a one-of-a-kind in a world of deeply polar divisions. In a place were different kitchen utensils can live in harmony in the drawer this misfit simply doesn't fit in. In an effort to fit in, to