Eye Candy in the Polar Vortex

January 25, 2014 § 1 Comment

Please Bring Balloons by Lindsay WardI’m a romantic when it comes to snow. Meaning that the idea of snow (fat, juicy snowflakes blanketing the world in white) is more appealing to me than the reality (school is closed AGAIN?!). The notion of snow days (flying down hills on sleds and decorating snowmen with friends) is always a bit different than the actuality (wait, it’s freezing out, and wait, did my daughter just pee through four layers of clothing and need to be changed on the side of this hill?). Don’t get me wrong: I love snow. It’s the very anticipation of snow that makes the dawning of winter bearable; that breaks up the monotony of short-lived, bare-branched days; that puts a glimmer of excitement in our children’s eyes when they think of what’s to come. But that’s why—more than anything—I love reading about snow. Because the snow in books is always billowy, soft, and pristine white. The snow in books is always perfect.

Last January, I wrote about my favorite snow books, each one conjuring up a romantic notion of snow. But this winter, in addition to having more snow on the ground, we’re living in a so-called Polar Vortex, a little thing that’s threatening the very core of our “we can handle winter” attitude (suddenly, our lives seem right out of the pages of Eileen Spinelli’s Cold Snap). Let’s say we could all use a dose of Eye Candy right now. I’m referring to Lindsay Ward’s Please Bring Balloons (Ages 2-5), which came out at the end of last year, and which I pulled out of my Secret Stash earlier this week (a secret stash which is rapidly dwindling in light of these snow days). Three of my daughter’s Favorite Things make an appearance in this book: carousels, balloons, and furry animals. Reminiscent of another 2013 favorite, Dream Friends, both books are about a make-believe adventure starring a girl and her four-legged friend. In Please Bring Balloons, this adventure is polar-bound.

The story begins with a piece of loose leaf that a little girl discovers tucked into the saddle of the polar bear at her local merry-go-round. On the paper, in hastily drawn pencil, are the words “please bring,” along with a picture of a balloon. When young Emma shows up with a single red polka-dotted balloon, she finds another note: “Bring more.” And here’s where the Eye Candy begins. Ward, a cut-paper artist (who made her picture book debut a few years ago with the darling New York-themed story When Blue Met Egg), has created bouquets of balloons from intricate floral, dotted, lettered, and textured papers (she must live at Paper Source). Each time we read the book, my Emily runs her fingers over the balloons, pointing out her favorites and discovering new ones at every turn. The balloons are sufficiently numerous to breathe buoyancy and life into the polar bear, who leaps off the carousel with Emma on his back—and flies with her all the way to the Arctic, where they frolic in the snow alongside other jubilant polar bears. The juxtaposition of the midnight, star-studded sky against the white icebergs and knee-deep snow is again enhanced by the use of collage: maps of the North Pole, white washed by Ward, stand in for the landforms. Snowflakes gently “kiss” Emma’s nose as they fall, and she has only to pull up her hood and snuggle into the bear’s back to keep herself warm. Like I said, snow in books is perfect.

Lindsay Ward's Please Bring Balloons

In every one of Emma’s gestures, I see my Emily. The way she fiercely squeezes the neck of the bear in a burst of joy; the way she throws her hands in front of her as she walks through the snow; the way she grins from ear to ear as the bear spins her around in circles. But what I love most is the way she embodies the spirit of adventures, of optimism, that every child inherently possesses. “The next morning, Emma went to the carousel to find everything as it always was. No sign of any balloons. ‘Even if it wasn’t real, it was the best adventure I’ve ever had,’ Emma whispered as she hugged the polar bear.” We all need to romanticize a bit in our heads. It’s what keeps us smiling in the Polar Vortex. We don’t have to wait until spring to dance. We can do it right now in our imagination.

Other Favorite Arctic (& Antarctic) Adventures:
Polar Bear Night, by Lauren Thompson & Stephen Savage (Ages 1-4)
Lost and Found, by Oliver Jeffers (Ages 3-6)
A Penguin Story, by Antoinette Portis (Ages 2-5)
Little Dog Lost: The True Story of a Brave Dog Named Baltic, by Monica Carnesi (Ages 3-6)

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