Sonderbooks Stand-out

Sonderbooks Book Review of

Twelve Kinds of Ice

by Ellen Bryan Obed

illustrated by Barbara McClintock

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Twelve Kinds of Ice

by Ellen Bryan Obed
illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Review posted December 22, 2012.
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Boston, 2012. 61 pages.
Starred Review
2012 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 Other Children's Fiction

The approach doesn't seem like it would work in a children's book -- an adult talking about what it was like for her growing up as a child in Maine. But the story is told firmly from a child's perspective, and the book does work, beautifully. I'm afraid it may cause a wave of discontent across America. If I had read this as a child growing up in Los Angeles, already sad because I never got to have snow, I would have had a new thing to wish for -- ice.

The story is told beautifully and simply. You'd think it would lose effectiveness because it's about all their childhood winters, and isn't the story of one particular year -- but it stays wonderfully evocative.

And who knew it took so long before they could use their vegetable garden as a rink? The beginning "chapters" (almost more like poems) are simple:

The First Ice

The first ice came on the sheep pails in the barn -- a skim of ice so thin that it broke when we touched it.

(There's a full page illustration of three kids looking in the bucket.)

The Second Ice

The second ice was thicker. We would pick it out of the pails like panes of glass. We would hold it up in our mittened hands and look through it. Then we would drop it on the hard ground to watch it splinter into a hundred pieces.

(This time the illustration shows a girl looking through a round pane of ice.)

The different types of ice continue. There's field ice and stream ice and black ice, where they can skate on the lake. All of those come before they're ready to turn their summer vegetable garden into a skating rink for the entire community -- Bryan Gardens.

Then the book changes. She talks about rink rules, her Dad's skating tricks, skating parties, and having a big Ice Show. Here's a chapter from later in the book:

Late-Night Skate

After homework was done, after Dad had flooded, after lights were out in neighbors' houses, my sister and I would sometimes go out for a skate. Late-night skates were more exciting than daytime skates. We were alone with our dreams. We would work on our figure eights. We would work on our jumps and spins. We would put on music and pretend we were skating before crowds in a great stadium. We would try out moves that we'd seen figure skaters doing on television or in a picture in the newspaper. We were planning and practicing for some distant Olympics.

This is a lovely little book. It's short and not intimidating, but it's going to be hard to know which children might be interested in it. It will be a good choice for readers beginning with chapter books. There's definitely not an action-packed story, but the reader who tackles it will be drawn into a world of anticipation, joy, and skill. I'm looking forward to finding out what kids say about it at our Mock Newbery Book Club in January.

I'm not sure what to call this book. My friend who grew up in Maine says things aren't like that any more there, so I think the closest category is Historical. I'll probably cop out and call it a beginning chapter book, since it's so short, has lots of pictures, and is non-threatening. It pulls you into a time where children's activities were centered around the world outdoors. Even reading about such a time and place is refreshing.