It just got really cold at my home (actually, I’m cold right now as I type this). So I thought I’d talk about this story. It’s about a girl who helps her town get ready for a winter carnival. It’s about that cozy feeling that comes from people working and celebrating together during the chilliest days of the year.
Some of those people are men from a nearby prison who help build the a huge ice palace, brick by brick. The girl’s Uncle Mike is with them.
As the girl’s father says in the story, the work is brand new to these men. This aspect of the story highlights one way in which the book is a bit different from other picture books. It is not the child who faces a new job or adventure, but a grown-up relative instead.
On the other hand, the girl, too, faces challenging new thoughts. She begins to think deeply about what it must be like for her uncle back in prison. She wonders about the future. Both she and the adults in her family are left to ponder the possibilities, both sobering and hopeful.
In picture books I like to look for a smattering of descriptions, details, and metaphors in the writing. The story starts with a meeting in a café to plan for the carnival; I loved how Blumenthal mentions the clicking sound of a ballpoint pen and describes the coldness of the wind outside. Blumenthal continues to offer details and description as she moves on to the tools workers use to cut up ice, the parade that shows the town’s friendly way of life, and the ice palace and fireworks. The story is written as a free verse poem, which is especially nice for reading aloud. The words seem to tumble, pause, and flow down the page in a neat pattern.
The ending is cheerful but a little sad in the same time. The girl hopes for the best but doesn’t know how events will turn out, what her uncle will do when once he’s free. The carnival ends, the season changes, and life moves on. Its an unusual ending for a picture book, even if this book was written with slightly older kids in mind.
The paintings by Tony Rand look real and not cartoonish, but they are also not too real. Some lines are a bit rough, a bit fuzzy or splotchy, which can make the snowy town and lake feel more welcoming. The info page for this book says that he used “water and acrylic paint.” Through the combination of pictures and text, I could imagine what it might be like to sit in the warm, bright cafe or in a bare prison cell, to stand by the edge of the parade or by a wall of ice.
Although this book is not quite new and seems to be out of print, I bet that many libraries have it.
Blumenthal, Deborah. Ice Palace. Illustrated by Tony Rand. New York: Clarion Books, 2003. Print. ISBN 0-618-15960-6