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Once Upon a Northern Night

Once Upon a Northern Night

5.0 1
by Jean E. Pendziwol, Isabelle Arsenault (Illustrator)

In this exquisite lullaby, a parent paints a picture of a northern winter night for their sleeping child, describing the beauty of a snowfall, the wild animals that appear in the garden, the twinkling stars, the gentle rhythm of the northern lights and the etchings of frost on the window pane.

As the young child sleeps, wrapped in a downy blanket, a snowflake


In this exquisite lullaby, a parent paints a picture of a northern winter night for their sleeping child, describing the beauty of a snowfall, the wild animals that appear in the garden, the twinkling stars, the gentle rhythm of the northern lights and the etchings of frost on the window pane.

As the young child sleeps, wrapped in a downy blanket, a snowflake falls, and then another and another. The parent describes the forest of snow-covered pines, seeing a deer and fawn nibbling a frozen apple, a great gray owl swooping down with its feathers trailing through the snow. Two snowshoe hare scamper and play under the watchful eyes of a little fox, and a tiny mouse scurries in search of a midnight feast. When the snow clouds disappear, stars light up the sky, followed by the magical shimmering of the northern lights — all framed by the frost on the window.

Jean E. Pendziwol’s lyrical poem reflects a deep appreciation of a northern winter night, a desire to share it with her sleeping child and the love that underlies that wish.

Isabelle Arsenault’s spare, beautifully rendered illustrations, with their subtle but striking use of color, make us feel that we too are experiencing the enchantment of that northern night.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Sarah Harrison Smith
Arsenault's nighttime landscapes, created with gouache, ink, pencil and watercolor, add dramatic emphasis to the text…The boy's house appears only twice, but the overwhelming sense of the home is as a secure haven from which to view, or imagine, a mysterious and beautiful world. Older children may resist the slight sentimentality of Pendziwol's text, but on a dark night a younger child is likely to revel in this book's mixture of magic, wildlife and deep comfort.
Publishers Weekly
“Once upon a northern night/ while you lay sleeping,/ wrapped in a downy blanket,/ I painted you a picture,” writes Pendziwol (Marja’s Skis) at the outset of this comforting bedtime read. And paint a picture she does, taking readers through a wintry landscape as nocturnal animals explore a world covered in white. There’s an emphasis on color throughout: a “great gray owl” with “great yellow eyes” examines “the milky-white bowl of your yard,” and a fox, “in his auburn coat and long black boots,” catches two snowshoe hares frolicking in the snow. Working in mixed media, Arsenault (Virginia Wolf), however, is judicious in her use of color. Early scenes are sketched in black, gray, and white, interrupted by an occasional red apple or cluster of green pine needles. As the night wears on, she uses deeper blues and greens to visualize a frozen lake, starry sky, and the surprise of the northern lights (“Once upon a northern night/ melodies of/ green and/ pink and/ orange/ sang across the sky”). A reverent ode to the magic and wonder of an icy winter night. Ages 4–7. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
Finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for Children (Text)
Finalist for the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Award
Finalist for the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children's Picture Book Award
Finalist for the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award
Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Books of the Year
Toronto Public Library First and Best
Quill & Quire Books of the Year

"[A] mixture of magic, wildlife and deep comfort." — New York Times

"A sweet and lovely tale of waking up to a world magically transformed by winter. — Booklist, starredreview

"A beautiful, lyrical celebration of northern light and night." — Kirkus, starred review

"A reverent ode to the magic and wonder of an icy winter night." — Publishers Weekly, starred review

"This is a lovely wintry bedtime story, best for sharing one-on-one." — School Library Journal, starred review

Praise for Migrant:
"Moving, inventive, and thoughtful . . ." — Kirkus Reviews

Children's Literature - Janice DeLong
Pendziwol's peaceful lullaby paints a lyrical landscape of snow drifting quietly down while a child lies snugly wrapped in slumber. Outside deer nibble, rabbits gambol, foxes spy, a mouse scurries and snowflakes continue their silent blanketing of yard, garden, deck, and forest. Finally, just before sun rises, sparkling crystals form on the willow tree to greet the child who sees the winter wonderland from the bedroom window, framed in frost. Arsenault's pen and pencil illustrations with their small touches of color are the perfect accompaniment to the text. Lovely though this volume may be, the first person narration is a bit confusing. Upon reading the back flap, adults will see that the book is a sweet offering to the children of Pendziwol's deceased sister, who is apparently the unnamed narrator. If the intention of the author is to bridge the lonely gap between children and a missing parent, then an entire new audience is created. Otherwise, children may be confused about who, indeed, is the speaker. With Pendziwol's dedication in mind, the final illustration of a child looking expectantly out the bedroom window is especially poignant. Reviewer: Janice DeLong
School Library Journal
★ 10/01/2013
PreS-Gr 1—In a dark room, a child lies sleeping in a cozy bed, while the unnamed narrator (parent? Mother Nature?) describes the silently majestic landscape of the northern night as it unfolds beyond the child's window. Snow covers the pine trees that "[hold] out prickly hands to catch the falling flakes," nocturnal animals visit the backyard in search of food, frost coats the windows and the pond. Arsenault's full-page and double-page mixed-media illustrations (pencil, gouache, watercolor and ink) have a 1940s feel, a perfect accompaniment to the soothing tone of Pendizwol's lyrical text with its restful "Once upon a northern night" refrain. Bursts of color highlight a branch here, some red fruits there, the green of the Northern Lights, an owl's startling yellow eyes, in an otherwise black, gray, and white palette, building to the crescendo of the last spread-the lavender and white brilliance of a snow-covered panorama with a pop of orange from a fox and some deer. This is a lovely wintry bedtime story, best for sharing one-on-one.—Yelena Alekseyeva-Popova, formerly at Chappaqua Library, NY
Kirkus Reviews
"Once upon a northern night / while you lay sleeping, / wrapped in a downy blanket, / I painted you a picture." This opening text (which begins on the title page) stages the stark scene of a boy sleeping in a bed in darkness. "It started with one tiny flake // ...until the earth was / wrapped in a downy blanket, / just like you." Each verse starts with the title line, creating a hushed, nighttime lullaby that is illustrated with soft, atmospheric, black-and-white images of all the activity that fills this quiet, snowy night. Spots of color dot the pages, demonstrating how effective and dramatic black and white can be. There are sprinkles of green pine needles, yellow eyes and beak on the owl, and the red tail of a fox. Artwork and words are skillfully balanced with descriptive phrasing: "pine trees held out prickly hands"; "a mother deer led her fawn"; "a great gray owl gazed down"; "two horseshoe hares / scampered"; "a small mouse / …scurried along the deck / …mounded with snowy white / like vanilla ice cream." The final verse repeats the first and completes the experience. A beautiful, lyrical celebration of northern light and night. (Picture book. 3-5)

Product Details

Groundwood Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.40(w) x 10.60(h) x 0.50(d)
AD1250L (what's this?)
Age Range:
4 - 7 Years

Meet the Author

Jean E. Pendziwol is the author of several highly acclaimed picture books, including Dawn Watch and The Red Sash, illustrated by Nicolas Debon, and Marja’s Skis, illustrated by Jirina Marton. She was inspired to write this book by the long but beautiful northern nights in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where she lives with her family.

Isabelle Arsenault is a very talented Quebec illustrator, who has garnered an impressive number of awards and international recognition. She has illustrated several books, including Le coeur de monsieur Gauguin (Governor General’s Award) and My Letter to the World and Other Poems (Governor General’s Award Finalist, IRA Children’s Choices), and she has won the Grand Prix for illustration (Magazines du Québec) for six years running.

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Once Upon a Northern Night 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
WhisperingStories More than 1 year ago
“Once upon a northern night while you lay sleeping, wrapped in a downy blanket, I painted you a picture.” This is the opening line. I ask that you keep these words with you to the very last page, as then you will understand the true meaning behind them. As a little boy sleeps, outside there is a chill in the air, as the streets turn frosty and then snow falls. Covering the ground with it’s own blanket, as well as the trees and bushes, the snow glitters and gleams under the street lights, creating that perfect untouched picture, ready for the little boy to enjoy when he awakes. The book is gracefully illustrated, as it’s darkened pictures actually light up the pages, and captivate their audience. The story is elegantly written, and a lot of thought has gone into the words to get them just right. I loved the book. It is heart-warming, enjoyable and makes you understand the serenity, yet playfulness, that a snowy scene has, especially in children’s eyes. A lovely book that you will enjoy as much as your child/grandchild etc will. I can see this book becoming a family favourite. I would just like to say to Ms. Pendziwol – your sister would be so proud of what you have done for her, and I hope the children hold this book dear to their hearts.