A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
FEBRUARY 9:

  • Happy birthday Dick Gackenbach (Harry and the Terrible Whatzit) and Stephen Roos (The Gypsies Never Came).
  • It’s the birth date of Hilda Van Stockum (1908–2006), The Winged Watchman, George Ade (1866–1944) Fables in Slang.
  • In 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy accuses the U.S. State Department of being filled with communists. Is it a coincidence that today is National Stop Bullying Day? Read Bully by Judith Caseley.
  • Happy birthday to the United States Weather Bureau, established in 1870. Read Weather by Seymour Simon.
  • It’s Read in the Bathtub Day. Read King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood.

On February 9, 1865, close to the end of the Civil War, Wilson Bentley was born in Jericho, Vermont. As a young boy he loved snow and began to keep a record of the weather. Studying snow crystals under a microscope, he discovered that each one was unique, with its own shape and design. He set out to find a way to photograph snow crystals, to record the beauty of individual drops of snow. Many of Bentley’s photographs, along with more information about him, can be found at the Jericho Historical Society website.

Recently, at a workshop for teachers and librarians in Boston, Children’s book expert Judy Freeman asked, “Who ever heard of Wilson Bentley? That is, of course, until Jacqueline Briggs Martin’s Snowflake Bentley was published?” Few had, of course. Initially, publishing house after publishing house turned the book down. After all, not only did it focus on an obscure subject but it also did not have a child protagonist. Most of the book recounts Bentley’s struggles as an adult.

Fortunately, Ann Rider of Houghton Mifflin had read the text again and again and believed it would make a fine picture book, one that she felt would be perfect for Vermont artist Mary Azarian. Hence Ann sent it to me, the Publisher, for approval. I still remember the first moment I encountered this text typed on a few pages. I was sitting in my office at Houghton. Fortunately, I had closed the door to read, because when I came to the page toward the end when Bentley dies, I began to sob. If this manuscript, with no adornment, only words, could make me cry, I knew that it had to be published. After a lot of work on the part of Ann, Jackie Martin, Mary Azarian, and designer Bob Kosturko, Snowflake Bentley became one of those books where everything comes together in a superb package. The text was beautifully paced and written; Mary Azarian’s woodcuts provided an extension of the words; Bob’s design was understated and elegant. When the book won the Caldecott Medal, the committee praised all three elements. Great picture books never belong only to the artist or to the writer—they always combine art, text, and design.

One of the first reactions to the book came from the editor’s daughter Molly. She liked the text and even wanted to photograph snowflakes. But she added “I don’t want to do it for my whole life.” Still the book’s underlying theme about following your passion, or dream, in spite of adversity resonates with thousands of children.

Some teachers use Snowflake Bentley around this time of year for a month-long unit on snowflakes. I myself read it every year because it reminds me that we all need to follow our passion, no matter where it takes us. In the end, love, dedication, and perseverance triumph.

Here’s a page from Snowflake Bentley:

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Originally posted February 9, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Award Winning, Caldecott, Nature, Science, Seasons, Winter
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Snowflake Bentley
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COMMENTS

  1. G. Perry says:

    I have always loved the weather and nature, as well as using a camera. This was just such an splendid book and it is also part of my ongoing reading children’s literature project as an adult. It set’s me thinking about the time I drove through rural Vermont during a peek leaf time one year, and all together, this gives me a foundation for loving this book even more. (I’m a fan of Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon as well.)

    And how very appropriate today’s book is. As I type this, a second winter storm is roaring away outside the window. A storm which came, just as we started digging out from last week’s record breaking blizzard.

    I think I will name today’s storm “Bentley’s Pleasure” and then I’m going to get of a large magnifying glass and just go have a look at a few of those flakes today.

    The fact that Anita played such an important part in Snowflake Bentley makes me want to hug my copy of it!

  2. Jess says:

    Snowflake Bentley is one of my all time favorite snow/winter books. I always read this story when I do a snow/winter science program at my library. Then if it is snowing outside we try and catch snowflakes and take a closer look at them, always a hit with my kids.

  3. Bob Sibert says:

    Couldn’t you do The Great Kapok Tree now and Snowflake Bentley in July? I’m sick of snow!

  4. Melissa H says:

    This is one of my favorite books to share with kids. The independence and perseverance of Wilson Bentley from boyhood through his adult life is such an encouragement. Also, I love Mary Azarian’s art — perfect for this subject. I like to combine this book with a favorite chapter book, Faraway Summer by Johanna Hurwitz, in which 12-year-old Dossi travels from the east side of New York to “faraway” Jericho, Vermont, as part of the Fresh Air Fund project. Wilson Bentley makes a cameo appearance in the novel. Good synergy! Thanks so much, Ms. Silvey, for this wonderful daily almanac!
    Melissa H., Children’s Librarian

  5. Jill Casey says:

    I have this book and love the story. I liked the fact too that his parents supported him in his passion by getting him a camera even though it must have been a hardship for them. I like Mary Azarian’s woodcut illustrations as well and have other books illustrated by her.

  6. I love this book almost as much as I love snow. This was my Caldecott year, as you know, and every time I see the cover I am happy. It is an extraordinary book, demonstrating the best of bookmaking for children. Thank you all!

  7. I posted about this book last week. It’s one of my all-time favorites! I included a science investigation that parents, teachers, and homeschoolers can do in conjunction with the book. Please check it out!
    http://michellecusolito.blogspot.com/2011/02/even-more-snow-fun.html

  8. Anita says:

    Thanks to everyone for their comments and enthusiasm about this book. I have the same response as Leda — every time I see the cover it makes me happy. Snowflake Bentley always reminds me that a writer only needs one editor, like Ann Rider, who can see her or his potential.

  9. Rebecca says:

    This is an incredibly inspiring entry – so inspiring, in fact, that I rushed right out to the library to check out Snowflake Bentley which somehow, I’m embarrassed to admit, I’ve never read. I can’t put it down. I could stare at the artwork for days – the illustration above literally took my breath away ( a trend, I see – as Kadir Nelson’s illustrations in the amazing Henry’s Freedom Box coming up tomorrow have that effect on me as well – but that’s another day’s entry). As a parent of a child with special needs, this story resonates. I think my son will identify with Bentley and his interest in/obsession with snow and the intricacies of the snowflakes; I’m always looking for subtle, non-didactic ways to send him positive messages about who he is and staying true to what matters to him — whatever that may be and no matter what anyone else says. This can be a tall order, but Snowflake Bentley fits the bill. Thanks for introducing it to me!

  10. What a wonderful birthday party for Wilson Bentley! It makes me happy every time I think about what has come of his parents’ sacrifice and his own passion. Thanks Anita–and everyone else.

  11. Anita says:

    So glad you saw the post. You have written so many fine books, but Snowflake Bentley will always have first place in my heart, because I first heard your voice as a writer in that manuscript.

  12. One of my favorite books! I love to read this one to my kids when we have a snow day. The illustrations are beautiful, as is the story.

  13. Karen says:

    I believe your Children’s book expert is Judy Freeman.

  14. Anita says:

    You are right — and it will be fixed.

  15. Mikal says:

    Take the time to find the book of his snowflake photos. They are fascinating.

  16. I have not read Snowflake Bentley, though it seems to be the perfect book for this blizzardy weekend. I love Mary Azarian’s woodcuts, and if the sample page is any indication, this book is gorgeous. I’ll definitely look for it – after I can shovel out of my house!

  17. Anita says:

    Greg: Yes, this book proved a bit more perfect for the day than I realized when I wrote the essay. Safe shoveling!

  18. I can imagine Wilson Bentley standing out in this February storm waiting for “some wonderful prize.”
    I’m so glad to be part of the group that remembers Wilson Bentley on his birthday.

  19. Snowflake Bentley is one of my favorites, too. And Jacqueline was the perfect person to tell his story – her own passion and perseverance for the craft of writing is just as inspiring.

  20. Linda C. says:

    Anita, Thanks for this review of one of my favorite books and my very favorite illustrator, Mary Azarian. This is a lovely book, and I’m glad to be reminded of it again. I have learned so much from your blog. I think I enjoy children’s books more and more as I get older–perhaps because I had none when I was a child. Thanks for calling to mind old friends and new ones.

  21. This spot is the place where we Snowflake Bentley fans gather on February 9 to remember and celebrate one man’s passion and how it has enriched our world,–and to celebrate finding stories and making books. I have to add this year that yesterday we had one of those “Bentley snows” in which you can see the six branches of the snow crystals as they fall on your coat sleeve. Still magical. Happy Birthday Wilson Bentley!

  22. Anita says:

    Jackie: Thank you for giving us that absolutely glorious story.

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