Once Upon a Northern Night by Jean Pendziwol and Isabelle Arsenault


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.


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.’


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.


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

‘Once upon a northern night,



in the darkest hours,

the snowy clouds crept away

and the stars appeared –

twinkling points of light

hanging in the purple sky.


‘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’


Once Upon a Northern Night is published by Walker Books

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