The Snow Child (Eowyn Ivey, 2012), inspired by “Snegurochka” (“The Snow Maiden”), a Russian folktale translated by Arthur Ransome and included in his 2016 collection, Old Peter’s Russian Tales.
Ivey sets her version in Alaska, early 1900s, where middle-aged Mabel and Jack have retreated after their only child was still-born. Several years after settling in a lonely clearing, they build a snow-girl from the first fall of snow. When a wild girl appears at their door a few days later, it’s as if the middle-aged couple had summoned her — perhaps even created her.
Ivey, who grew up in Alaska and knows the isolation that comes each winter to those who settle in the woods, maintains the mystery behind the girl’s sudden appearance. The tale, moving between the extremes of winter and summer in the far north, also moves between emotional extremes for Jack and Mabel, as they grow to love their snow child.
The Library Book, (Susan Orlean, 2018). In 1986, the main library building in Los Angeles caught fire. The fire blazed for hours, destroying or damaging more than a million books. It was the largest library fire in the history of the US, and the only reason it didn’t hit the headlines was that Chernobyl had blown up three days earlier.
In this enthralling book, Orlean digs deep into the causes and aftermath of the fire, including a long section on the person who might have been responsible for setting it. But this is also a paean to public libraries, one of the few truly democratic institutions left in the world — free and open to everyone. (Yes, of course, there are still subscription libraries, university libraries, etc, but these are separate entities and do not, in and of themselves, disprove Orlean’s point.)
Reading this book will convince you that public libraries are a national (even international) resource worth protecting.
The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess (Tom Gauld, 2021). If you don’t already know Tom Gauld from his cartoons for The Guardian, or his covers for The New Yorker, then you’re missing out on a wonderful artist.
The eponymous Little Wooden Robot and Log Princess are unlikely siblings, adopted children of a childless royal couple. When the Princess goes missing, the Robot sets out to find her. Complications, of course, arise.
Gauld’s humor and illustrative skill create a glorious, fascinating world for anyone reading this book, or following along as someone else reads it to them.