Christmas is cancelled at Griselda Bone’s orphanage. No tinsel, no mince pies, and certainly no presents. Instead, algebra is the order of the day, plus extra fractions and a spelling test. This bleak scenario is 7-year-old Phoebe’s reality in The Snow Dragon by Abi Elphinstone & Fiona Woodcock. Seasoned readers of traditional Christmas tales will want to reassure Phoebe that there’s just bound to be a liberal sprinkling of festive magic on the way.
And phew, here it comes, in the shimmering silvery form of the Snow Dragon himself.
Poor Phoebe is the very last orphan in residence, as all the others have been whisked away by loving adoptive parents. Cue violins as Phoebe is subjected to the tyranny of Griselda Bones. Skipping is banned and hide-and-seek is a heinous crime in Ms Bone’s mission to ‘wage war on childishness.’
On this particular Christmas Eve, banished from the house, Phoebe comforts herself by building a snowman. An exceedingly unusual snowman, who proceeds to morph into a magnificent, glittering dragon.
‘Dragons only appear to those who need them,’ he says.
It’s time for an adventure, and in a sparkling tale, reminiscent of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, this encompasses an enchanted starlit flight across continents. Particularly lovely, is a scene where the dragon perches on a high peak and they watch the great dance of the Northern Lights, literally howling into the sky with the sheer joy of being alive.
‘One day your life will open up beyond these orphanage walls.’
Phoebe must keep faith and courage.
The hefty slice of pantomime villainy and narrative of magical triumph over adversity, combine to make this predictable festive tale as cosy as your favourite Christmas jumper. Abi Elphinstone is one of our best adventure story writers, but for me the star of the show is illustrator Fiona Woodcock. Her feathery, stippled pictures cleverly create the sense of snow whirling and drifting, and are simply beautiful.
A real treat.
The Snow Dragon by Abi Elphinstone is illustrated by Fiona Woodcock and published by Simon & Schuster Children’s UK, 48 pages.