Advent Calendar

Once Upon a Northern Night by Jean Pendziwol and Isabelle Arsenault

9781406366006

In Once Upon a Northern Night the French/ Canadian illustrator Isabelle Arsenault collaborates with writer Jean E. Pendziwol, who draws on her native Lake Superior in northern Ontario.

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It’s a story to be read aloud at bedtime on a frosty night. The text is deliberately old fashioned, the refrain Once Upon a Northern Night providing a pleasing sing song feel.

Occasionally the sentiment is laid on a bit thick, but when it works, it really works.

‘Once upon a northern night melodies of green and pink and orange sang across the sky. I tried to capture them but they were much too nimble, and only their rhythm reached you, deep in slumber, rising and falling with each sweet peaceful breath.’

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Isabelle Arsenault revels in the natural setting, using a palette of pastel shades in gouache, pencil, watercolour and ink. The old fashioned tone is mirrored in her influences, mid century artists like Roger Duvoisin and the early Maurice Sendak.

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The defining image is a picture of a weeping willow heavily laden with snow and starlight.

‘Once upon a northern night,

deep,

deep

in the darkest hours,

the snowy clouds crept away

and the stars appeared –

twinkling points of light

hanging in the purple sky.

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‘I knew by the time you woke,

the sun would have chased them away,

so I set them like diamonds

on the branches of the willow’

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Once Upon a Northern Night is published by Walker Books

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