CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 3 . . . .September 28, 2007
Dancing Through the Snow.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2007.
238 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
Grades 4-9 / Ages 9-14.
Review by Vikki VanSickle.
Left alone in the shadowy, unknown room, Min had closed her eyes but been unable to keep back the hot tears that slid out under her lids and down her cheeks. Even back then, Min had been known as a girl who never cried, and yet, despite herself, she heard herself moan softly.
That was when Dr. Jess had come and sat beside her bed in the darkness and sung to her.
She must have heard me and known I wasn't asleep, Min thought now. But that night, she had kept her eyes shut and lain as still as she could, drinking in the gentle, healing words.
Good night, little girl, good night.
Sleep tight, little girl, sleep tight.
Starlight, little girl,
Shine bright, little girl,
On my little girl. Good Night.
"Litter-Bin Min" has been abandoned over and over by foster parents. When kindhearted and formidable Doctor Jess Hart whisks her away from the Children's Aid Office a few days before Christmas, Min can hardly believe her luck. But as the days turn into weeks, Min soon finds herself building a life with Jess.
Min and Jess find an abandoned dog a few days before Christmas and bring it home. Min recognizes something of herself and her own experiences in the little dog that she names Emily. Her need to rescue Emily becomes fierce. She enlists Jess and Jess' godson Toby in her mission. Toby and Min become friends, the first real friend Min has ever had. Abandonment, miracles, healing and patience are reoccurring themes in the novel.
The story of the foster-care child is well known in children's literature. Jean Little acknowledges her predecessors in this genre by mentioning the contemporary classics The Great Gilly Hopkins, Chance and the Butterfly, and Adam and Eve and Pinch-Me. In Dancing Through the Snow, Jess lends these three notable titles to Min, telling her that they are some of her favourites. Little's deeply satisfying book deserves to be included in this list of high quality novels.
Although the subject matter is anything but light, the tone of the novel is soft and gentle. Life with Jess is warm, comfortable, and safe. Full of hot cocoa, softly falling snow, and contemporary miracles, Dancing Through the Snow is an excellent read for the holiday season.
Dancing Through the Snow is full of lively, original characters. Doctor Jess has overcome her own painful childhood to become a saviour figure for Min and other children. She is warm, wise, and strong, bringing a much needed stability to Min's life. Her godson Toby is eager and kind. At first, Min is worried that he will interfere with the relationship she has so carefully built with Jess, but, in fact Toby becomes a great friend to her.
The portrayal of Min is especially sensitive. Min is a naturally hopeful person, but her experiences with the foster care system and with school bullies have made her cautious. Little is especially apt at drawing the reader into her young protagonist's emotional world. One of the most poignant aspects of this novel is Min's emotional yo-yoing between hope and fear. Her emotions are often confusing and overwhelming, which any adolescent reader can relate to, regardless of circumstances.
Little is considered one of Canada's top most writers for children and deservedly so. Dancing Through the Snow is an exquisitely crafted book. The prose is clear and gentle, and the novel unfolds one quiet moment at a time. Although it is well paced, readers will want to read this book slowly. Dancing Through the Snow is a novel to be savoured.
Vikki VanSickle has a Masters degree in Children's Literature from the University of British Columbia. She is currently living and working in Toronto, ON.
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