Picture Book Reviews: Samson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead & Tony by Ed Galing and Erin E. Stead
One sunny day Samson, a large and friendly woolly mammoth, encounters a little red bird who is looking for yellow flowers for her mouse friend (whose favorite color is yellow). As she flies off with the flowers, Samson wonders what it must be like to have a friend. He wonders this for so long, in fact, that he falls asleep and wakes up to a world covered in snow. In the midst of a blizzard, Samson finds and shelters the little red bird and flower-loving mouse in a tender tale of kindness and unexpected friendship.
Philip C. Stead does picture books about friendship and kindness so well. From the award-winning and beloved A Sick Day for Amos McGee (illustrated by Erin. E. Stead) to A Home for Bird, Stead’s approach to the writing and illustrating of friendship is nothing short of splendid; always reading as unfeigned and sincere. Stead’s Samson in the Snow is another winning picture book: a quietly gorgeous and heart-warming story of one mammoth’s considered acts of compassion and kindness.
Looking after his dandelion patch on a sunny day, Samson is surprised by a tiny red bird. Searching for some yellow flowers to cheer up her friend, Samson helps the little bird select the most beautiful dandelions and off she flies to visit her friend. When sudden and angry snowfall blanket the ground and sky, Samson sets off, concerned about the little red bird. On his way through the deep and dangerous cold and snow, Samson helps and befriends a mouse who is also looking for someone. A miraculous discovery, aided by spotting some bright dandelions in the snow, leads to beautiful and moving reunion- and the start of new friendship. Stead’s work, as ever, is elegant and stirring, all the while tranquil- the kind of quietly powerful and moving picture book that I love deeply.
Any readers who have previously adored Philip C. Stead’s work- either as author or solo work as author/illustrator- will undoubtedly find much to appreciate and love here. The story holds much to explore, read and share in a quiet study or one-on-one read aloud, or for a shared read aloud with an older group. Readers who enjoy the work of authors and illustrators such as Pamela Zagarenski, Marla Frazee, Lane Smith, or David Ezra Stein might especially adore the restrained beauty of Samson in the Snow.
Tony was all white,
with wide gentle eyes
and a ton of love . . .
Follow this touching tale of a boy and his friendship with a horse, by the late poet Ed Galing and illustrated with remarkable tenderness by Caldecott-winning artist Erin Stead.
While Erin E. Stead’s award-winning work as illustrator is much-known to me- and much adored-, (the late) Ed Galing‘s work and poetry is something completely new. Their collaborative work in Tony, a picture book centred around a gorgeous white horse, is surprising, beautiful, and unique.
Reading through Tony, poring over Galing’s words and Erin E. Stead’s incredible drawings, I was faintly and happily reminded of the work of poet Robbie Burns…and of William Carlos Williams…the honest and arguably bare, uncluttered style of writing. Galing’s poetry here in Tony is just that: unfettered and uncomplicated. A relatively simple tale of a narrator’s love and admiration for a glorious, gentle white horse that pulls a dairy cart for a young driver named Tom, Tony is one picture book that could be missed at first glance. But do not miss this one for there is much to love and exclaim over! In particular, the remarkable illustrative work of Stead here. Stead’s work is breathtaking, giving texture, aura, and atmosphere to Galing’s words and, in fact, to Tony the horse. The careful colour palette is mostly lighter green/teals with some washes of yellow; the early morning setting of the story leads to the overall hushed and hazy feel of the story. The relatively simple nature of the poem’s focus, along with details of setting, suggest a story set in a bygone era…
Overall, what a surprise! If you’ve seen and experienced Erin E. Stead’s illustrative work before, then you already know you are in for a treat. Stead’s artwork combined with Galing’s poetry makes for a special and unexpectedly rich picture book. While on the face a simple story about a ‘large, sturdy’ horse, Tony is story that may beg for a read or two or more to sift and settle: an unadorned, wonderful, wholly felt tale that strums the senses. If my words here and enthusiasm haven’t compelled you yet, you can also read this radiant starred review of Tony here from Kirkus Reviews! You can check out the book’s page over on Macmillan to see a few pages of the picture book- well worth a look!
I received copies of these titles courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own.