Thursday, February 19, 2015

A midwinter's tale

“Once upon a northern night
while you lay sleeping,
wrapped in a downy blanket,
I painted you a picture.

It began with one tiny flake,
and beautiful
and special,
just like you.
Then there were two,
and then three.

the night sky filled with sparkling specks of white, crowding,
and floating,
tumbling down to the welcoming
until the earth was
wrapped in a downy blanket, just like you.”

And so begins Once upon a northern night (Groundwood Booksby Jean E. Penziwol with illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault, a beautiful book which was listed as a Finalist for the 2014 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award.

Here, the traffic has slowed to a creep. The streets are quiet. The lights are dimming. And the snow is softly whirling. There's a bit of a hush to the city. I've been looking out my window at a wintry (and very cold!) wonderland, and so, was inspired to read Once upon a northern night. It's a perfect time for this lovely lullaby read. 

The words are expressive and soothing. Just what I'm needing tonight. A mother paints a wintry yet warm poem for her safely snuggled child while the animals of this northern landscape quietly come to life - searching, playing, wandering amid gathering drifts and under the gradual unwrapping of a starlit sky. 

Recently, I watched and listened to an interview with the author. Jean read her book and shared her thoughts with a children’s Book Club in Calgary. She spoke about her childhood in Thunder Bay, the inspiration for the book and answered questions from the children. Jean believes this is a book which seems to be loved by chiIdren and adults alike. And aren't those the best kind of picture books - ones cherished not just by the young but grown-ups as well - to be read and re-read... Jean recounted how she had received an email from a woman who had been hospitalized. Each day while at the hospital, the woman read the book as it provided a level of comfort throughout a stressful time. Jean also shared that not only is there is the literal message of how life carries on through the night during sleep but also there is the metaphorical aspect of darkness and light; how life goes on although we may be going through dark and difficult times. There is light ahead. There is another day. There is hope. 

There are layers here not only of snow but of other messages to be found.
Yes, this book is a lullaby, it's poetry, it's art and it's more...and isn't that what reading - books and poems and stories - is all about? Being thoughtful about what we've read, observed, explored in books - especially picture books - together with their artwork. Making connections. Making meaning. Wondering. Thinking on other, deeper levels. It's what we as adults do. And this is also so important for the development of our young listeners, readers, learners. Going beyond...

The illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault in harmony with the book's lyrical lines have such a dreamlike and subdued quality. The pictures are almost exclusively black, gray and white yet each spread has a subtle touch of colour. Rosy pink cheeks on romping hares. Forest green pine needles peeking from within snow-covered branches. Crimson red frozen fruit dangling from twigs. And the wildlife in these drawings leaving their prints and markings in the snow; further evidence, proof of the life, light and nature around us, even in the darkness, even while we slumber.

So, look closely, very closely, at the pictures. And read the words slowly. Quietly. In a whisper. The language, the words, the images. So magical and poetic. It really is a tender and sweet bedtime tale. Especially fitting for a night like tonight.

~ Moonlight is sculpture. - Nathaniel Hawthorne 

~ In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary. - Aaron Rose

~ Moonlight floods the whole sky from horizon to horizon; how much it can fill your room

   depends on its windows. - Rumi 

~ I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says "Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again". - Lewis Carroll (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass)

~ ...and then, I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?
- Vincent van Gogh

So to carry on with this gentle theme - delicate cookies in shapes of a moonlit winter sky dusted with a sprinkling of snow...

Cinnamon Snowflakes & Stars (and perhaps a moon…)
Inspiration:  Country Living Magazine – December 2014 (British Edition) 
Recipe by Alison Walker

Prep Time:  25 minutes, plus chilling
Baking Time:  10 minutes

Makes 25 – 30 cookies (depending on size)

1/2 cup (125 g) butter, at room temperature (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup (110 g) packed light brown sugar 
1 large egg yolk
1 1/3 cups (150 g) all purpose flour  
1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp icing sugar plus 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

2.  Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, on medium speed of an electric mixer. 

3.  Beat in the egg yolk. Then slowly sift in flour and cinnamon. Blend together oh-so-very gently with a fork until the mixture forms clumps, then gather together with your hands. Shape into a flat disc, wrap and chill for 1 – 2 hours.  

4.  Lightly dust the worktop with flour and roll out the dough to a 4mm (1/8”) thickness. Cut out shapes with snowflake cookie cutters (or your choice) and transfer to your prepared baking sheets, spacing well apart. Place baking tray(s) in fridge for about 20 minutes to firm up the dough. 

5.  Heat the oven to 350°F. Bake cookies for approximately 8 -10 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool slightly on baking sheets for a few minutes then transfer to a wire rack. 
6.  Combine icing sugar and cinnamon. Once cookies have cooled, gently dust them with the cinnamon-flavoured icing sugar.

Doux rêves...


  1. Just wonderful the way you've explored the book and reading and made the most perfect cookies as companions!

  2. A good read and a sweet treat - a yummy combination, I think!
    Thanks, Danielle.

  3. Hi Ann Marie,
    I love your blog and photographs and have nominated your blog for the Liebster Award. If you don't know what it is, read my post
    Regards Didi

  4. Hello Didi,
    Thank you for your nomination. I don't know about the Liebster Award but I will go to your post and find out more!
    All the best,
    Ann Marie