It is no surprise that David Petersen (creator of the Eisner Award-winning comic book series Mouse Guard) attributes his inspiration to cartoons, comics and tree-climbing. Readers of his debut picture book, Snowy Valentine, could easily believe this author/illustrator spends much of his time perched in trees, watching the daily lives of woodland creatures. In the spirit of The Wind in the Willows, Petersen offers a charming portrayal of the sweet, subtle relationships among the animals in a snow-covered forest.

On Valentine’s Day, Jasper Bunny heads out in search of a gift for Lilly. He seems undeterred by how small he is (even in relation to his own impossibly large ears) as he seeks gift recommendations from his neighbors. However, he can’t knit like the porcupines, Mrs. Frog’s chocolate-covered flies won’t do and the raccoon’s flowers have wilted in the cold. Jasper narrowly escapes Teagan Fox’s gift for his vixen—a rabbit stew swirling with potatoes, onions and (oh, irony!) carrots.

When Jasper is about to give up, his ears drooping and his red coat dripping, he exclaims, “I have nothing for Lilly.” High above, Spalding the cardinal sees Jasper’s true gift—an enormous heart tracked in the snow. Lilly steps out of her burrow to see “the heart he had made for her . . . and she loved it.”

Petersen’s ink and digitally colored illustrations are full of personality, movement and light. Their precision in capturing the temperatures and textures of winter is unmatched, from the low-hanging sun leaking through the skeletal trees to the contrast of a fire’s glow with the purples and blues of the forest. Breathtaking bird’s-eye spreads make Jasper seem so very small, yet when he is just about to give up, the illustrations reveal his power to do great things.

Young readers, no matter how small, will enjoy seeing just how big the gift of love can be, as well as their own ability to give it.

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