Review: Snow Tales by Michael Morpurgo

A slight break from my normal post style again. My Eldest son got this book for his birthday. It is aimed at children slightly older than he is, but he has such an appetite for reading and books that we went with it to see how he got on. This review has two sections, one from my perspective, one from my son’s perspective (based on my observations).

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The Parents’ Perspective

I loved reading this book out loud to my son, it has two stories in it “Rainbow Bear” and “Little Albatross”. It is written in such a way that ‘performing’ it (as you have to when you’re reading to a pre-schooler) was extremely easy. You get the emotions of the bear throughout and can put that into your voice as you’re reading.

The first story is essentially a “be careful what you wish for” type tale with a polar bear hunting for a rainbow so that he can make a wish to be more colourful. Of course when he is more colourful he is easier to spot making hunting impossible, and results in him being captured by humans and put in a zoo. (SPOILER) It all concludes nicely with the help of a boy making a wish to send the bear back .

The second story is a little darker, and is about a baby albatross and his parents. The parents go off hunting leaving the baby in the nest alone, but unbeknownst to them there is a ‘killer bird’ lying in wait to come and eat the little albatross. I think this story contains an important message about parental responsibility, but perhaps that is because I’m an adoptive parent.

Both tales are illustrated superbly well, bestowing real life to the words on the page and certainly providing some talking points for the enraptured pre-schooler.

I have never known my son to sit so enthralled in a book for so long before. He was definitely listening to it too rather than getting distracted by this or that, because he asked some really pertinent questions about what was going on, especially about the baby albatross.

The Adoptive Child’s Perspective

The illustrations in “Rainbow Bear” are full of colour, and my son loved trying to spot the rainbow in them. He hunted it with the polar bear, he got excited when the bear found it, disappointed when it got away. He got worried when the bear was going to get captured, and was happy when the bear was wished home again. He asked questions about why being rainbow coloured wasn’t as good for the bear as being white, and understood why the bear was upset when he was in a cage. I am very pleased with the way he responded to this story as he engaged with it exceptionally well, and he showed real empathy for the bear.

The other story I can see could be dangerous for some adopted children, it could trigger some bad memories depending on how well they can cope with situations similar to their own experiences. I didn’t read the story in advance, so the first time I read it as I was realising what was happening I carefully paid attention to how my son responded.

The second I read that the Mother and Father Albatrosses had left the baby albatross alone my son immediately exclaimed “But he won’t be safe!”. So I stopped reading, explained he was right, and that was why Daddy and Dad would never leave him on his own, that one of us would always be there, and if not then we would make sure someone else like Nanny or Granddad would be there instead. He accepted that and we continued.

Again the illustrations allowed my son to engage with the story more, he spotted the ‘killer bird’ that was stalking the albatross, and I think that helped him. The baby albatross doesn’t see the bird until it’s too late but my son did so that was ok. When the Mother and Father Albatrosses got caught in a fishermen’s net he got concerned about them and the dolphins and turtles that also got caught.

Towards the end and before the happy ending there is a picture of the killer bird attacking the baby albatross. Initially this disturbed my son, but when he realised the parent albatrosses were coming back to rescue their son he settled back down. On subsequent readings he has pointed out that the ‘killer bird’ wasn’t really bad, he just needed to eat something to survive which surprised me – maybe the Planet Earth nature documentaries that we put on for him were being watched properly!

This story actually helped reinforce the message we have been trying to give our sons since we adopted them. When the baby albatross was relieved at the end at being kept safe and fed by his parents they respond word for word with what we have said to our sons. “That is what we are here for.”

He has asked for “Rainbow Bear” to be read to him twice since, but “Little Albatross” is the one he wants the most. I think the story resonates with him and his experiences, and although the baby albatross is put in danger, his parents make it back and he is safe. He now tells me that when Dad goes out to work Daddy will stay and keep him safe, he doesn’t need my reassurance now, he seems happy with that and I am too.

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