A LITTLE LIBRARY - Children's story of northlands girl takes gloom out of winter

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Despite Thanksgiving's warm welcome, November has always struck me as a dreary month: gray, cold and dark.

Night has already fallen when I close the store at 5:30 p.m. And mornings are a gray in-between where I struggle out of my warm bed and hope not to find ice on the car.

But "Immi's Gift" (Peachtree Publishers, 2010) sprang into my November gloom like laughter spilling out of a room. This beautiful picture book is the first to be written and illustrated by prolific illustrator Karin Littlewood. In soft pencil and watercolor, Littlewood begins the story of a young girl named Immi, who lives, apparently alone, in the snowy north.

"Oh, it was cold," Littlewood begins, and I find myself agreeing.

Immi's solitary existence in a "frozen white world" ends one day as, fishing through a hole in the ice, her line brings up a little wooden bird. Over the next several days, she catches all sorts of bright, tropical items: leaves, starfish, feathers and flowers.

The little girl decorates her igloo with these colorful items, and the sight attracts many friendly animal visitors. Suddenly, Immi's isolation gives way to storytelling and friendship.

Later, when the ice melts, Immi gets ready to leave. But before she goes, she takes a little wooden polar bear off of her necklace and drops it into the ice fishing hole.

I'll leave the story's ending for you to discover.

The simplicity of "Immi's Gift" leaves many things unanswered. For example, does Immi have a family?

Parents should not expect to use this picture book to introduce other cultures, for while the dedication tells us that Immi is short for an Inuit word meaning "echo," ice fishing and igloo are the only clues we have to custom, and these remain archetypal rather than educational.

Instead, the story acts almost as fairytale by focusing simply on Immi and the mysterious appearance of the bright gifts.

Littlewood's vibrant illustrations perpetuate the story's magic. My favorite page is one that simply says, "The next day she fished a red flower."

In Littlewood's depiction, Immi herself is a tiny figure, while just under the ice, across two whole pages, swim jellyfish, seals, a walrus, a narwhal, and an enormous whale. This entire undersea world is just beneath Immi, closer than she realizes.

There are many things to love about this enchanting little book. Throughout the story, but especially in the last two pages, Littlewood motions to that which connects us with others across lands, customs, and weather patterns.

Littlewood's beautiful paintings may have been my invitation to open the book, but her ending left me quietly satisfied, and feeling just a little bit better about my own place in the world - not alone, not without beauty, and not without connection.

"Immi's Gift" is certainly a bright spot in the approaching winter.

Zoey Smith works at the Whitman College Bookstore and is helping expand the children's book section. She can be reached at smithze@whitman.edu.

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