The Snow Spider

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Author: Jenny Nimmo

Finished on: 19 June 2017

Where did I get this book: A ninth birthday present for my niece, borrowed back

I don’t clearly remember reading this book as a child. But I know I did.

I picked it up in a bookshop this year, to consider as a present for my beloved niece’s ninth birthday. Not only was it obviously the right choice as it opened with

Gwyn’s grandmother gave him five gifts for his birthday, his ninth birthday.

But as I read on

They were very unusual gifts… a piece of seaweed, a yellow scarf, a tin whistle, a twisted metal brooch, and a small, broken horse.

Something strange happened. As if I were a bell, and this book were the clapper. I know this. This is familiar.

I love reading books. Stating the obvious, I know. Sitting down and reading a good story as an adult is one of life’s greatest pleasures. But the truth is that it’s nothing. Absolutely nothing, compared to what it’s like to sit down and read a good book as a child. Maybe it’s because as adults we’re constantly juggling hundreds of thoughts about things we should be doing, what time we need to put down the book and start making tea, or put down the book so we get enough sleep to vaguely function tomorrow.

It’s true that I can immerse myself in a book. But I don’t think I can quite recreate that all-consuming absorption, there is nothing else in my head but this world.

Little Women, Anne Of Green Gables, Swallows and Amazons… When you read books as a child, and love them, it’s not just that you enjoy yourself. They shape who you are in some fundamental way. Your personality, and your world view, is still a sponge; these stories are absorbed inside you, and never leave.

Jo March, Anne Shirley, Titty Walker. I would not be the person I am today without these characters. I read this amazing exchange of letters between JK Rowling and a young fan of her books recently, if any confirmation were needed of the huge and real impact that reading can have in the lives of children.

And while not quite as influential as these greats, The Snow Spider is still a magical and very special children’s book that clearly made an impression on me. In particular I suspect Gwyn’s superb grandmother, with her eccentric ways, bohemian clothes and irresponsible dumping of huge and dangerous levels of responsibility on young children, contributed to my early construct of ideal adulthood.

This is a tale of a family coming to terms with the loss of a child, Gwyn’s sister Bethan. And Nimmo plays with Welsh myths and traditions to give the story of a grieving family a sense of the universal. There were definite echoes of the The Snow Child, my recent book club read based on a Russian fairy story. There is something primal and fundamental in these stories of loss, wildness, childhood and adventure.

Rereading it was a thoroughly lovely and comforting experience. Recommended for all nine, and thirty-nine, year-olds.

 

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