The Snow Sister
Julian de Narvaez
Faber Children’s. 2015
128pp., pbk., RRP $A 14.99
It is Christmas Eve in Victorian England and Pearl Granger has just got into trouble for using her sister’s beautiful red and gold paisley shawl to adorn the “snow sister” she has made to honour and remember her sister Agnes who died from fever three years ago. Since her death, Christmas has meant little to the family so Pearl is more concerned about the scolding she is going to get but it will be worth it because each year she builds herself a snow sister and each year she misses Agnes a little less. Living in poverty means there is not a lot of extras for Christmas – even taking the two pieces of coal for her snow sister’s eyes means that the fire will burn a little lower that night despite the blizzard that is approaching.
As she trudges inside to face her due, she is met by the postman whose sack is weighed down by “these new Christmas cards” and he gives her a letter that she is to give her father immediately. It is a letter that would seem to change the Grangers’ lives forever as Pa has been summoned to a solicitor’s office in Bath to hear the reading of his rich brother’s will – a will of which he is the ‘main beneficiary”. Imagining new wealth beyond their dreams, Pearl is sent to beg some more credit from Nobel’s Grocery so the family can have the ingredients for their first Christmas pudding since Agnes died but a series of circumstances see her getting to see the rich side of life that she fantasises about and helps her understand that all may not be what it seems. Life is not necessarily about how many sugar plums you can eat.
As it cover hints, this is a poignant, heart-warming short story, beautifully written and illustrated with monochrome pictures evocative of the period, that not only paints a picture of the poor in Victorian England but also teaches lessons about the true meaning of Christmas and the power and importance of family love. The rich–poor, upstairs-downstairs nature of society where wealth determines status is very apparent and readers will engage with Pearl’s almost Cinderella-like character in comparison to the snooty, spoiled Lockwood girls.
This would be a wonderful choice for a family read-aloud over a few nights or for the newly independent reader who is looking for more than a picture book story about Christmas. Reviews of other books by Emma Carroll have suggested that she is an author on the rise and if The Snow Sister is a sample of the quality of her writing, she is one I will look for again. Definitely one for the Christmas collection.