This splendid book for children aged 7+ feels ideal for this time of year. Filled with shimmering descriptions of rural Japan in deepest winter, the beginning focuses on Shoji and his rival, a bullying older boy called Orochi, who compete to create the most beautiful carvings in an ice and snow sculpting competition.
It’s clear from the offset that Shoji is a kind-hearted lad who “always tried to do the right thing, even if it didn’t always work out that way.”
These early chapters of The Snowbirds offer a wonderful sense of realism, neatly grounding us in the world of the novel, especially through the sections in which Shoji’s father teaches him to carve. Family and friendship is a central theme in the book, with Shoji’s mother, father and little sister Emiko working hard to help overcome a catastrophe during the contest, and the Snow King listening respectfully to the advice of his grandson Jack Frost.
Both Orochi and Shoji create exquisite Snowbirds, which Jack Frost tells his grandfather about, knowing he is seeking a companion. The scene in which Jack Frost brings the birds to life is breathtaking – truly magical – and the characters of the birds is immediately evident, with brave, considerate Suno mirroring the traits of his maker, Shoji, while arrogant selfish Aisu is just like the unpleasant Orochi.Jack tells the birds they must fly to the Snow King’s castle together, but a series of challenges stands in their way, each one revealing the strengths and weakness of Suno and Aisu a little more.
The Snowbirds feels like an ancient myth given new life, with morals, magic and beauty in abundance. Illustrations by the author are scattered throughout, offering a delicious extra layer of glimmer and frost to the tale. A charming story with a heart-warming ending.
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