Book review: ‘The Snow Leopard’ purrs
Vail CO, Colorado
Sometimes others ask me the same question I often ask myself: What was the allure of children’s picture books that captivated my adolescent spirit, directed and justified my professional career, and continues to inspire my life?
Perhaps the late Robert Lawson, author and illustrator of many beloved children’s classics, including “Rabbit Hill” and “Dick Whittington and His Cat,” explained it best:
“It is difficult, if not impossible, to know which of the myriad of children’s books will penetrate a given individual’s own magic circle of existence and strike the clarion note of pure truth.
“No one can possibly tell what tiny detail of a drawing or what seemingly trivial phrase in a story will be the spark that sets off a great flash in the mind of some child, a flash that will leave a glow there until the day he or she dies.”
Indeed, part of the fun of exploring any book is the quest for that pearl; the discovery of that voice or image between the covers that speaks directly to one’s private and unique sensibilities.
I found such a gem just the other day and immediately claimed it as a personal favorite. “The Snow Leopard,” by Welsh author/illustrator Jackie Morris, and recently published by Frances Lincoln Books/London/UK, in my opinion represents the quintessential picture book, and here’s why.
Set against a stunning Himalayan backdrop (instant magic for mountain-worshippers), Morris’s lyrical prose (she’s no literary slouch) and masterful watercolors (prepare to be jealous) weave a myth about the rare, elusive Snow Leopard (on my revered species list).
Enough ingredients? Wait, there’s more.
The “Snow Leopard” offers layers of enjoyment, a must for any enduring work in this genre. Any adult who has read a requested bedtime story each evening, often ad nauseum, appreciates a children’s book that bears repeating.
Upon first reading “The Snow Leopard,” I savored the obvious: a mysterious, imaginary setting (Mergich Realm), the relationship between the main characters (wise, aging leopard adopts innocent child), and the poignant ending. I also drooled over the elegant illustrations, slightly reminiscent of Fleur Cowles equally elegant “The Love of Tiger Flower” (Morrow, 1980). “The Snow Leopard” is certainly a memorable story and visual feast for kids and adults to share.
From the onset of time, the snow leopard has kept her hidden valley safe from the ravages of mankind. But time is passing, and she needs to find a singer of her song to replace her. She chooses the child and, through patient teachings, the great leopard nurtures and passes on her legacy. Morris gently leads her audience through the valley of the shadow and beyond, with beauty and firm resolution.
I found myself drawn back to the beginning, skipping through the pages, studying the pictures, rereading, and realizing the variety of powerful emotions and messages portrayed.
Here’s a picture book with rich meaning, effective interplay between words and pictures, compelling images, engaging story line, and lingering satisfaction for all ages. This is one to treasure.
“The Snow Leopard” is about inevitable natural rhythms, the continuity of life and death, and love between generations. It’s about respect and care for our natural world, and the importance of keeping “all things safe.” It’s about prayer flags and lullaby, and precious peace.
Sandy Ferguson Fuller works at The Bookworm. She’s also a children’s book agent, editor and consultant. She wrote and illustrated her own book, “Moon Loon,” in 2004.