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Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Mary Azarian

1998; 32 pp. $16. Houghton Mifflin.

Quiet as snowfall, this book is the story of Wilson Bentley and his passion for photographing snowflakes so "everyone can see the great beauty in a tiny crystal."

As a boy, Bentley tried for three winters to draw the flakes as they fell on his parents' farm in Jericho, Vermont, but they melted too fast. His parents spent their savings on a camera?"taller than a newborn calf and [costing] as much as his father's herd of ten cows"?that magnified 3,600 times. In his second winter experimenting with the camera, he finally figured out how to make good photographs of snowflakes; he spent the rest of his life photographing and improving his techniques. Scoffed at by neighbors ("Snow in Vermont is as common as dirt") he was eventually admired by scientists, who raised the money to allow him to publish Snow Crystals at the age of sixty-six. Six weeks later, he died from pneumonia caught after walking six miles through a snowstorm to take pictures.

Snowflake Bentley won the Caldecott Medal for illustration last year. The soft-colored woodcuts support the story's sense of careful handwork, beauty accomplished after long hours of work with good tools, and the importance of sustained observation and giving things up for beauty. An antidote to frenetic speed and too much television and loud noises, it is a paean to quiet, intense care, curiosity, and thought. What an anomaly for a child. What a gift for everyone.

 

ISBN: 0395861624

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