We are not scientists in this house. I have a very hazy notion of what an atom or a molecule is, and I haven’t noticed my husband leafing through a copy of New Scientist or playing with a conical flask and a Bunsen burner (apart from when he’s brewing up crystal meth. I’m lying, of course. He brews tea and coffee only. And does one ‘brew’ crystal meth? I’m not sure I’ve got quite the correct terminology there. Again, proof of my unscientific bent). So, should I be surprised that neither of my children can make the link between touching snow repeatedly, and then having miserable, throbbing hands from the cold? Himself the Elf suffers most from this because a) he has least sense in any case and b) he behaves as though gloves are the work of the devil and he must cast them out as soon as they touch his skin. He uses his teeth to slide them off and isn’t happy until they have been flung as far away as possible from him. “Nonononononononono!” he warns me, as I dutifully approach him with mittens each time we left the house. I’ve now given up. The first mitten had already been removed before the second one was donned, and I’d rather just pull the rainhood over the buggy and risk the tsks of people in the street who are clearly thinking “Selfish beast of a woman, her hands are all cosy and encased in wool while that POOR BABY freezes,” then have my hair pulled and eyeball scratched, as was my fate last time I leaned in the buggy to dress him appropriately.
Dulcie is perfectly happy to wear gloves (is it only two years since she called them ‘gubs’? Oh my heart breaks at her perfect diction and wide-ranging vocabulary) but appears to develop a hearing problem as I warn her every time we leave the house that if she picks up snow now her hands will get wet and cold, and perhaps it would be better to wait until we are on the way home before grabbing snow? No, it won’t have all melted. I’m sure. Yes. I am perfectly sure that there will still be snow left in half an hour. Why? Oh, you’re asking why? Yes, that is a good question. Perhaps we can discuss this later? Because mummy isn’t going to win any science prizes and I need to look the answer up before I try to explain…
We are keeping with the snowy theme as much as possible and reading books that feature snow, too, to distract us from the burning and prickling of thawing hands. And what could be more perfect than The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats?
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
As I opened this book for the first time, I found myself momentarily not wanting to move past the first illustration: a tiny little hooded figure, much more pixie or elf than Don’t Look Now, is traipsing across the snowy page, leaving prints of his little boots. The silhouette looks impish, and thrilled, and absorbed in what he is doing, and even Dulcie, who is usually very impatient for the story to begin, considered this image in silence for a few moments. When we turned, the next page was a flurry of perfect, beautiful snow flakes, all different and in delicate hues of pink and blue, a blurry prelude to the snowy day that Peter, the hero of the book, experiences.
He wakes to a world of white, and rushes outside after breakfast in his snowsuit. His head is tipped back to marvel at the snow piled up on the street so that the path was cleared for walking, and we experience so many sensations as he takes his first walk. He hears the sound as his feet crunch, he makes different footprints and experiences a cold ‘plop!’ of snow as he smacks a tree with a stick and dislodges the drifts from the branches. He slides down a hill, makes a snowman and lies down to make angels. He shows every child the perfect play time in the snow, unfettered by adults or by getting too cold. And when he returns home, he knows he has a snowball stashed in his pocket for tomorrow.
The amazing day, however, comes to an end and Peter is sad as he gets into bed. He has checked his pocket and discovered the snowball has gone. And the image of a sweet-faced, melancholy boy with his delicately rounded cheek cupped in his hand as he drifts off to sleep is so touching and poignant. The transience of his experiences and happiness seem to be summed up in that disappearing snowball, and the intensity of childhood emotion is conveyed in the wistful, dotty drawing that doesn’t even need to picture his features, so transparent is the body language. He dreams that the sun has melted all the snow, yet on waking he discovered that not only was the snow still there, but that new snow is falling. So, after breakfast he calls “to his friend from across the hall, and they went out together into the deep, deep snow.”
This is a book that shows what a leveller nature is: if it is snowy or a child is on the beach, then they don’t need anything to experience wonderment, joy and happiness. As the illustration shows two little boys, hand in hand in the snow and off for an adventure, you know that all the money in the world couldn’t make the day ahead of them any better. And just for a moment, I forgot about the gloves, and the hassle, and the cold, and just wanted to play in the snow again.