Arctic White by Danna Smith

Written by Danna Smith and illustrated by Lee White, Arctic White (2016, Henry Holt and Company) is a beautiful story about a girl’s quest for color and hope.  And it is most definitely on my next list of Current Favorite Children’s Books!

Here’s a quick summary … A little girl lives in the Arctic, where everything is white or a shade of white.  And then one day her grandfather comes to her and appears to have a secret. After following him across the vast whiteness, the little girl witnesses colors few will ever have the chance to appreciate: the Northern Lights. After learning about the colors that do exist in her world, the little girl returns home to paint pictures of the colors.

Here are two reasons why I love Arctic White

(1) It’s an ART book. The beautiful illustrations represent the little girl’s perspective, and I so appreciate White’s detail. The page on which one can see the grandfather’s face hairs is stunning.  But in addition to its illustrations, Arctic White is also a book about the human necessity to create, to remember, to express hope through art. Society has a tendency to overemphasize science and math, so a book like this is so important. Even though it is a children’s picture book, Arctic White can be used to introduce more complex YA books about art (see I’ll Give you the Sun and Fans of the Impossible Life (upcoming review).

(2) It’s a book about natural beauty just as much as it is about one’s inner beauty. Having spent time watching a livestream of the National Arboretum eaglets recently, I really appreciate the book’s commitment to the amazing beauty of our world.  There was something about watching those little eaglets in the nest that made me proud to be human, proud to be alive – and amazed by what happens in our world. And I think readers of Arctic White will empathize with the hope the little girl finds in the natural world and the way in which the Northern Lights reflect her inner beauty.

Here are some teaching ideas for Arctic White:

(1) Ask students to go experience or remember a marvelous time in the natural world and then ask them to represent artistically this experience or memory via a medium of their choice.

(2) One aspect I really like about Arctic White is how White illustrates the book according to the little girl’s emotions. Encourage students to illustrate a particular time in their life with just pencils, colored pencils, or pens. The inability to include written text will help them focus on the story’s visual elements.

Let me know what you think of Arctic White in the comments below.

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