I’m often asked by teachers for mentor texts. Short prose pieces, picture books, or maybe a memoir that offers students vivid images or parallel construction, or creates a particular mood. It can be tricky to find the perfect offering, so it’s always exciting to come across a title that will satisfy a number of requests across a range of grades and disciplines. Ellen Bryan Obed’s Twelve Kinds of Ice (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), an ode to childhood and winter, is one of those books. The prose is elegant, the descriptions lush, and sense of joy inescapable.
One sentence describes the first ice of the season: “The first ice came on the sheep pails in the barn—a skim of ice so thin that it broke when we touched it.” The second ice “was thicker. We could pick it out of the pails like panes of glass. We could hold it up in our mittened hands and look through it. Then we would drop it on the hard ground to watch it splinter into a hundred pieces.” “Field Ice,” “Stream Ice,” “Black Ice,” “Garden Ice,” “Late Night Skate,” and other vignettes describe the progress of the ice—its texture, look, and even sound, from late fall to early spring—and the excitement that the advent of ice—and ice skating—represented in the lives of one family, their friends, and their neighbors.
Here’s a description of “Stream Ice.”
“If the nights continued cold, stream ice came quickly after field ice. Dad took us in the car up the road to the stream where we had fished for trout in the spring. We sat down on its hard brown bank to tie up our skates. Then we followed Dad as he followed the stream. Sometimes we’d stop and lie down on our stomachs. We’d put our eyes close to the ice to watch the little fish and slender reeds moving in the cold current of the streambed. Then we’d follow Dad again until the stream smalled to a brook of bent alders. We tried to see how far we could skate between branches, over stones, and around old logs. All afternoon the stream was ours until it was time to take off our skates and walk back to the car. All the way home we talked about…”
The book spans four seasons, ending with “Dream Ice,” “the ice that came in our sleep” that could be skated on during those “hot” nights. Share this gem of a book at storytime, with literacy and science classes, and any opportunity you have.
Excerpt from Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed, illus. by Barbara McClintock, reprinted with permission by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
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