Snowflake Bentley (Review)
Updated: Dec 5, 2020
Interest Level: Preschool - Grade 3
Author: Jacqueline Briggs Martin
Illustrator: Mary Azarian
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2009
Reading Level: Lexile AD830L
Retail: $8.99, paperback
Summary: Biographical picture book about Wilson Bentley (1865-1931), a self-taught scientist who took hundreds of photographs of individual snowflakes in order to study their structure.
Snowflake Bentley won the 1999 Caldecott Medal, and that alone should tell you that it is a fabulous book. It is well-known among educators and librarians, but I did not discover it until about 2005. I was on a quest to find biographical read-alouds for my science-obsessed son, and a series of internet searches led me to this book. Our family copy is a Scholastic imprint.
If you haven't seen this book, here are a few things to know. First, although it is a book about a photographer, it is illustrated with bold woodcuts. The stark quality of these images is perfect for a book set in snowy Vermont. Illustrator Mary Azarian has carefully added color to each scene by hand, and the result is stunning. Each spread is in turn framed with a heavy black outline.
The main text is laid out within each scene with additional information provided in sidebars in a smaller font. I find it quite easy to read all of the text on each page without losing the thread of the narrative. The vocabulary and tone is smart and engaging. Author Jacqueline Briggs Martin is a uniquely talented storyteller.
As you read each page, you will probably become more and more eager to see an actual photograph of a snowflake (just as I was). We are rewarded with a final page with a photograph of Wilson Bentley and three of his snowflake images. If you would like to see more, visit the Snowflake Bentley website.
Although there is little in the way of direct science in this book, it does cover the 3- and 6- armed structure of typical snowflakes and touches upon the many factors that affect how they form (temperature, moisture, wind). The main message of this story is the wonder that one feels from the unique and and transient beauty of snowflakes. I hope it will inspire children to look around and explore the world around them.