MAY 6:

  • Happy birthday Ted Lewin (Peppe the Lamplighter, Stable), Susan Terris (The Latchkey Kids), and Giulio Maestro (A More Perfect Union: The Story of Our Constitution).
  • It’s the birth date of Randall Jarrell (1914-1965), The Gingerbread Rabbit, and Judy Delton (1931-2001), Pee Wee Scouts series.
  • Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychiatry was born on this day. Read Sigmund Freud by Kathleen Krull.
  • It’s national No Homework Day. Read No More Homework! No More Tests! by Bruce Lansky, illustrated by Stephen Carpenter, and The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman

Today I would like to wish happy birthday to one of the loveliest ladies in the children’s book world, illustrator Barbara McClintock. Born in New Jersey, Barbara drew constantly as a child. By the time she reached seven, she knew she wanted to be an artist when she grew up—although she also had designs on becoming a cat. At age nine, she moved to North Dakota, where she rode horses and later attended Jamestown College, and continued to draw all the time. Not knowing how to begin a career as an illustrator, Barbara called Maurice Sendak, reigning king of the children’s book world, who was gracious with his time and advice.

Barbara’s first book, published by independent Boston publisher David Godine, The Heartaches of a French Cat, won a New York Times Best Illustrated Award, a prize she has now captured many times. Barbara’s full-color picture books are simply exquisite. If you missed Leave Your Sleep, a book of classic poetry adapted to music by Natalie Merchant, be sure to pick up this title, which looks—not to mention sounds—absolutely beautiful.

However, the book I have chosen to feature on Barbara’s birthday differs greatly from the other titles she has created, Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed. This small gem of a book takes readers through a winter from the first ice, which comes on the sheep’s pail in the barn, to the last ice of the season, and finally dream ice that comes in your sleep. In a rural farming community of the type that might be found in New England or North Dakota, the children and father in the book delight in winter. They create their own skating pond; they play hockey; they hold skating parties.

Already a favorite of third- to sixth-grade teachers, Twelve Kinds of Ice can be read a short chapter each day. And it naturally lends itself to vignette writing exercises. Certainly, the book can be viewed as memoir of the kind of life possible for those who do not crowd in cities. I read it at the end of April, and it even made me long for winter again—something I thought totally impossible.

But what makes this book so special, what moves it beyond its lilting text, are Barbara’s pen-and-ink drawings. Without color, without embellishment, she shows us what a superb draftsperson she is. With only her accomplished line and shading, she brings characters and setting to readers in vivid detail. At the end of the book, we understand these children and this family because Barbara has brought them to life. The shape of the book, the type, and the drawings all combine for a unique reading experience. This is one of those books that you not only want to read, you want to own.

Best wishes to Barbara. I hope she and her partner, illustrator David Johnson, are having a wonderful celebration today. And I am so glad that she decided to become an illustrator—rather than a cat.

Here’s a page from Twelve Kinds of Ice:

Twelve Kinds of Ice inside


Originally posted May 6, 2013. Updated for .

Tags: Nature, Seasons, Winter
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Twelve Kinds of Ice
One year ago: The Animal Family


  1. Lori H. says:

    I’m so happy I stumbled upon your Almanac a month or so ago. Reading it each day is now part of my daily routine as an Elementary School Librarian. Thank you!

  2. I adore TWELVE KINDS OF ICE! It fits so sweetly into your hand, enhacing the intimacy of the beautiful illustrations. A true gem.

  3. G. Perry says:

    I just read this today and it’s a truly gorgeous work. Just beautiful.

    It was for me, a very happy book. Having a family like that would have been so life enhancing, so special.

    This book has shared an experience with me which I have always wondered about, but never had the chance to take part in, and would I have loved that!

    The art is also a perfect match for the story.

    I’m thinking I’ll have to own this for yearly reading around the holidays, and it’ll be along side Christmas Carol, The Magi, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, and a few other treasures.

    Two thumbs way up!

  4. Anita says:

    Gordon — glad you found this. It is one of those rare and special books that keeps coming back to mind for me.

  5. G. Perry says:

    When I read a book like this now, I instantly recall Anita saying that writing childrens books is the most important job in the world. That statement gave me pause a few times. However as I kept reading and reading all those books in 100 Best Book for Children, by Anita, I began to quietly and slowly sense the profound authenticity of it, and the full meaning of it does not become obvious unless you are someone that needs to know that.. Then, there is this gift of blinding emotional light that changes you, and then it will always be a part of you, forever.

    This book, and many other books Anita wants us to have is like dreaming up a family you didn’t have but longed for, and you get to go live with them for a time, and belong, and be in their lives, as many times as you want to.

    There is no other gift like this in life.

  6. Thank you for sharing this wonderful little book! I agree that it is a “small gem of a book” that should be shared with anyone who loves winter. Thank you, too, Anita, for providing the interesting background information about Barbara McClintock.

  7. Anita says:

    Gordon: I like the images of the family you long for, finding it in books. And for children, also, friends they would like to have in real life. Anita

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