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Review: Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed

Twelve Kinds of Ice
By Ellen Bryan Obed
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Houghton Mifflin

ISBN: 9780618891290
Grades 3-6
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*Best New Book*

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I’ve ice skated a lot in my life. Growing up in Northern Michigan, it’s bound to happen. I used to live around the corner from an ice rink and can remember completing lap after lap during open skate times. But the ice wasn’t just at the rink – when November hit, ice could pop up anywhere. It loomed large in my world for long stretches of the year. Twelve Kinds of Ice captures this winter world with all the anticipation and excitement that comes with it. It’s a near-perfect book, but one that will need a bit of help to reach a wide audience.

Winter doesn’t just appear – we sort of ease in to it. The first ice is thin, and gone as quick as it came. But it comes back.

The second ice was thicker. We would pick it out of the pails like panes of glass. We would hold it up in our mittened hands and look through it. Then we would drop it on the hard ground and watch it splinter into a hundred pieces.

One chapter leads into the next, following a family as ice emerges. From ice rinks to hockey to late night skates, the family makes the most of the season. It doesn’t last, of course, but the memories do.

Every sentence is poetic – carefully crafted with evocative, economical results. Obed proves masterful at bringing the reader to this place, where ice is the backdrop for life. It reads like a memoir. This would work well in a classroom setting as a calm, comforting late fall read aloud. The choice to tell this story through the different types of ice is unexpected, and gives the book a wonderful uniqueness.

To my 31 year old librarian eyes, this is a beautiful book. For kids, it might get lost in the shuffle. It’s quiet. It’s small. It’s a neutral color. It has black and white illustrations. None of these are bad things, mind you – we need books like this in the world more than ever now – but it may have an effect on who decides to pick it up. The best part is as soon as you read it, you’ll want to sing its praises.

The illustrations are a study in intricacy, full of fine detail and crosshatching. Beautifully rendered scenes capture the characters, landscapes, joy, and cold.

So handsellers, handsell. Gatekeepers, spread the word. This book is too good for you to stay quiet. Now where are my skates? Twelve Kinds of Ice has me ready to lace them up.

Review copy from the publisher.

Also reviewed by A Fuse #8 Production.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. I cheer when I read a review like this from someone like you who sees hundreds of books each year. I’ve not heard of this book–nor this author–but I’m already committed to getting it. Quiet, subtlety, BEAUTY . . . these are all things we’re in danger of losing in a sound-jammed, fast-forward world. I can’t wait to read this–thanks for holding it up for us to see!

  2. Thanks for the review. Sounds like a great book for those of us in the Northeast though we don’t enjoy the ice/winter as much as the family in the book seems to!

  3. Thank you so much for recommending this book. I’m not sure if I would have checked it out if it hadn’t been for this review. I read it in one go last night and feel confident in saying it’s by far one the most enjoyable and beautiful children’s books I’ve read all year.

    Many thanks and all the best!


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