Living in a remote mountain village, Maria and her grandfather are removed from other villagers for most of the harsh winter. They may be isolated, but they like the solitude and quiet—where they can huddle inside, watch the snow fall and the moon beckon and hear the plaintive calls of the wolves in the woods. The wolves are sacred here—the villagers realize their presence and respect them, but do not fear them. Their calls, Maria says, are “part of the music of the valley.”
So one snow-speckled day, when Maria finds a tiny gray wolf huddled alone in the woods, she considers what might be the right thing to do. What would Grandfather do, she wonders? Should she hurry it home to the warmth of the hearth? Or leave the young wolf cold and alone, possibly to die in the woods?
When Maria’s sage grandfather allows her to keep “Shadow,” as she has named the cub, a gentle story of innocence, belonging and the natural order unfolds. But will the villagers accept a wolf in their midst? Will Shadow return to the wild? Who are those traders nefariously nosing around? And who is the mysterious woman who captivates the village with a story of a boy raised by wolves? Life goes on, seasons pass and Shadow grows into an adult, and one day, he lets out a howl, concurrently sad and beautiful—a note full of meaning and soul.
Publisher Barefoot Books touts its titles as “celebrating art and story,” and Winter Shadow is a fine example of the synchronicity of the two elements. The spare, quiet story is woven amid lush acrylic illustrations, which also decorate chapter headings and endpapers. There are some brief moments of conflict in the plot, providing just enough momentum to drive readers on. Above all, this is a beautifully crafted, atmospheric book—slim and inviting for reluctant readers, yet satisfying in itself, especially for animal lovers.
Sharon Verbeten is a freelance writer and former children’s librarian near the frozen tundra—but hardly an isolated village—of Green Bay, Wisconsin.