Friday, December 28, 2012

Books Like Whoa: The Snow Spider by Jenny Nimmo (2012 Book Countdown)

Next up on the countdown, a haunting and delightful middle grade reader that won my heart

The Snow Spider
by Jenny Nimmo

Procured from my most favorite used bookstore in the world, McKay's

Procured in December 2011

Finished on January 1, 2012

Format: Audiobook, which I listened to on my way back to DC from Tennessee

Why I gave it a try: The good folks at Books You Should Read sold the hell out of this book on their inaugural book club and then I found the audio on the cheap. So I thought, why not?

Summary: Gwyn's ninth birthday doesn't get off to a great start. His father is still so devastating over his sister's disappearance the year before that he can't help but be horrible to Gwyn. Today, that means ruining his birthday party. But then, Gwyn's Gran gives him quite a gift - a test to see if he has inherited his wizard ancestors' powers. A snow spider arrives in response, confirming Gwyn's magical abilities, and giving Gwyn hope that he can heal his family. Magical shenanigans ensue. 

Thoughts: What I loved most about this book, which I believe is aimed at preteens, is the respect that the author shows for her young readers. There are some dark, scary things that happen in this book that Nimmo doesn't sugar coat at all. While I love Harry Potter inordinately, it has a rompy quality that keeps things from feeling too serious most of the time. This book is unabashedly dark. Stuff gets real and Nimmo doesn't temper things with much humor. She trusts her readers to deal with situations she sets up. In short, this is a very sophisticated emotional story, even if it is written for kids.

However, that doesn't mean that this is a depressing book or not fun to read. It just makes the stakes of the story feel weightier. Gwyn isn't just trying to save his community - he is trying to heal his family. He's trying to repair his relationship with his best friend. He's trying to connect with his ancestral history. I really admire this aspect of Nimmo's story telling: she makes the stakes focused on Gwyn's relationships, not on grand gestures of saving the world, though that does happen. The emotional driver for all the action in the story is grief - that's very rare for a children's book, from what I've seen.

I also was in love with Nimmo's invocation of the setting. She creates an incredible atmosphere of wonder and natural beauty. Basically, she made me want to move to Wales. Her use of Welsh mythology gives the whole of the story a sense of depth and richness that makes the story more believable. She makes a number of allusions and direct references to the Mabinogion, especially through Gwyn's ancestors' names.

She also builds a great sense of Gwyn's community, creating rich secondary characters. I especially loved Gwyn's Gran, who is as sassy as you could hope a grandmother could be. His best friend, Allen, is also great, and the mending of Gwyn and Allen's relationship is a satisfying subplot.

This is a great story for kids filled with both magic and human drama - a rare, but extremely satisfying, combination that Nimmo executes flawlessly.


6 - Why are you still reading this review? Go pick this one up NOW

What was your favorite childhood book?

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