Ever notice that snowmen, no matter how meticulously and lovingly put together, always look disheveled the next day? Droopy carrots, coal-black eyes askew, bellies not quite so round and jolly? Sure, you’ve blamed it on the sun, the neighbourhood kids, cracks in the space-time continuum, but what if it’s not that at all? What if snowmen participate in nocturnal activities beyond our awareness, beyond our comprehension? What if, when the moon rises, they wake up, and start to roam? If this is true, then I am personally going to melt every last one of them to the ground with my hair dryer, because sentient snowmen are the stuff of nightmares (and bad movies.) Sorry Frosty. Just the idea of rotund, cold-blooded creatures wandering the streets at night, smoking their corn-cob pipes, puddling in corners, it’s just too much. I haven’t been this frightened since I read the classic distopian cautionary tale, Attack of the Killer Snow Goons by Bill Watterson.
Happily (and to my great relief), the chilly folk that populate Snowmen at Night are partiers, not predators. Mayhem may be high on their agenda, but it’s mayhem of the joyful sort, made of snowball fights and cups of ‘ice-cold cocoa’. No need to fire up the hair dryer, these snowmen are quite harmless and resolutely cheerful. In fact, one read of this book and you’ll wish you were a little more cold-blooded…
“One wintry day I made a snowman, very round and tall.
The next day when I saw him, he was not the same at all.”
Seriously, who is? I barely recognize myself in the mirror in the morning.
Snowmen at Night is a young boy’s delightful and not at all threatening hypothesis of what snowmen do when those of us not made of the white stuff are asleep. Each lovely page depicts a nocturnal world of snowball games, ice races, a skate on the local pond and even some competitive snow-angel making. A party, in other words. According to the jacket, the author and illustrator of Snowmen at Night woke up one morning and discovered the snowman they had made the previous night had drifted a few feet and was now facing their door, thus inspiring the story of snowman shenanigans. Great concept, which they’ve now expanded to Snowmen at Christmas, and most recently, Snowmen All Year. The way it’s been snowing in my neck of the woods, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to have snowmen all year.
I’ve been a fan of Mark Buehner for a very long time. He and his wife Caralyn, the writer in the family, have published many books together including Snowmen at Night and another favourite of mine, Superdog: The Heart of a Hero, although the first Buehner I welcomed into my home, Harvey Potter’s Balloon Farm was written by another author. All Buehners have the following two things in common: they are funny, and they are beautiful. This could be said of many books in my collection, but there is something distinctive about Mark Buehner’s illustrations. Aside from the humour, the colour is glorious, like a scattering of precious jewels on a white tablecloth. Buehner uses an oil-over-acrylic technique which may explain the exquisite richness of the hues, but I think some artists are just better at mixing colours. From the Escape of Marvin the Ape to It’s a Spoon Not a Shovel, Buehner’s illustrations are exponentially superior to just about everything else on the bookshelf. And funnier.
The wintry antics of Snowmen at Night are a perfect canvas for Buehner’s illustrative talents. One might assume that winter is a season without colour, but in fact, it is quite the opposite. I’ve observed the deepest blues and purples not in the flowers of July but in the shadows cast upon snow on sun-filled January days. In winter, the lowest part of the horizon is almost always a pinky-orange, a wintry blues’ perfect compliment. Buehner has captured the gorgeousness of the winter palette in Snowmen at Night, and yet the popularity of the book, and now the series, probably has more to do with the humour and the inventiveness of the story, as opposed to it’s beauty. Hidden shapes in the rounded scenery, like cats and, well I mostly found cats although I understand there is a Tyrannosaurus Rex, gives the book, and all of Buehner’s books, an extra layer of visual interest, not that any is required.
My favourite illustration in the book is the snowman hurling himself toward the finish line at the race. It is just so darned funny, but more than that, it’s also very lovely, encapsulating all the elements that make this book so appealing. Even the unequal distribution of black teeth in the snowman’s mouth has a kind of joyful exuberance that can’t help but elevate the mood of the reader. Snowmen at Night is not only a thing of beauty, it is also a thing of great pleasure. Like a cup of ice cold cocoa on a crisp winter day. I mean night.
Mark and his wife Caralyn live in Salt Lake City surrounded by children and, I would assume, a lot of paint brushes, notepads, droopy carrots, bits of coal, and lost mittens. Caralyn and Mark also share a website, which is great gobs of fun, and well worth a browse.
Oh and next time you’re wandering around your neighbourhood, check out the snowmen. There’s always a few that look like they’ve been ‘rode hard and put away wet.’ And now we know why.
Snowmen At Night by Caralyn Buehner, illustrations by Mark Buehner. Published by Phyllis Fogelman Books, 2002
Not satisfied with one Buehner? Who would be?? May I recommend Superdog: The Heart of A Hero (HarperCollins, 2004) which will be discussed in a future post, The Escape of Marvin the Ape (Dial Books, 1992), and all the other Buehners you can lay your hands on.