Jan Woolf reviews the latest children's book from Culture Matters
In homage to Raymond Briggs’ classic book and animation The Snowman, this is a charming tale about snow. But whereas Briggs’ theme is loss, the Gallagher/Stewart one is diversity and unity. Aimed at early readers, it’s also enjoyable to read aloud to those younger. Like good panto, there’s always something for the Mums and Dads.
Satnam, a little boy from a Sikh family in Britain, sees his first falling snow through the classroom window, and is joined excitedly by his twin sister, Simran. This is magical stuff. Who cannot be moved by the sight of falling snow at any age? The language is gorgeous: ‘White flakes were falling FASTER and FASTER, they were like tiny pillows.’ The teacher takes all the children (small class size I note!) out to roll a snowball and build a snowman. The twins, helped by the other children, turn him into a Sikh elder, with a snowy beard (turning overnight into icicles) and a scarf used as a turban. Satnam’s own topknot is hidden by his warming bobble hat, and other children’s head coverings reveal their own cultural backgrounds.
The narrative departs from Briggs in an interesting way, as this is not about solitude. Neither is there a culturally anchored character like Santa. But there is dancing, singing and melting, and an excited, transformative expectation of return. Clear, poetic writing from Owen Gallagher and fine artwork from Fiona Stewart, inspired by, but not ripping off Raymond Briggs. The cultural references slip down nicely, and there’s nothing didactic here, with this haiku style foreword –
They fall from the sky
one flake at a time
to be put together.
The four year old I read it to said ‘I love it. So nice of you to give it to me tomorrow after you have told the others what you think.’ He also wants to draw little faces in the snowflakes on the inner covers.