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Review: Twelve Kinds of Ice December 6, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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Twelve Kinds of IceFor the longest time this book was like the unicorn of the year’s new books. I kept getting tantalizing glimpses but could never read it for myself. First, in July, Betsy Bird of A Fuse #8 Production posted this rave review. Then I just waited and wondered (occasionally seeing it referred to in various blog comments) until November, when Jonathan Hunt brought it up on Heavy Medal and Roger Sutton used it as the example in his Nov/Dec editorial for the Horn Book, about how impossible it is to categorize certain books. And STILL, I could not get it at the library! So last week was exciting, when I finally found it waiting for me on the shelf.

Let me be clear from the beginning: I am not a winter person. I do not know how to ice skate, and I’ve only been skiing once. So the fact that the sentences in this little book had me dreaming of walking through frozen woods and sliding over frozen ponds gives you an idea of the mesmerizing quality of the writing. Twelve Kinds of Ice is indeed a hard book to categorize. It has the feel of a memoir, but also sounds entirely contemporary. It’s longer (and has more complicated vocabulary) than an early reader, but at 61 pages, is much shorter that your average middle grade novel. This would be a great book to give a teacher, as the lyrical passages could be used in writing lessons and it also makes a great seasonal read aloud.

Written by Ellen Bryan Obed, Twelve Kinds of Ice takes the reader through a winter season in the life of the Bryan family. Mom, Dad and children of various ages all look forward to the skating and the fun that different kinds of ice bring them. Streams become paths to explore on skates and ponds of black ice are where “We sped to silver speeds at which lungs and legs, clouds and sun, wind and cold, raced together. Our blades spit out silver. Our lungs breathed out silver. Our minds burst with silver while the winter sun danced silver down our bending backs.” The vegetable garden becomes a skating rink on a par with Boston Garden or Maple Leaf Garden and hosts hockey games and skating parties, finally culminating in a homemade ice show, complete with Dad’s clown act. All too soon though, there is a thaw, the ice melts and patches of mud show through, leaving only dream ice to sustain skating dreams until the following winter. This beautiful text is complemented perfectly by Barbara McClintock’s precise and energetic illustrations and I know that  if I had read this as a child I would have pored over them for hours, deciding which character I wanted to be in each different picture. Twelve Kinds of Ice is a wonderful book not just for winter, but for the whole year.

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