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Review: Snook Alone by Marilyn Nelson

Snook Alone by Marilyn Nelson
Illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering
Candlewick Press
ISBN: 9780763626679
Grades 2 and Up
In Stores

*Best New Books*

Higher-level picture books can have a hard time getting love from the masses. While critics often praise them for breaking out of rigid age constraints with sophisticated artwork and text, reaction from the public can be less enthusiastic. 2008’s Wabi Sabi comes to mind. The gut reaction of “this is too difficult for kids” can be strong.

I hope that doesn’t happen this time around.

Surprisingly complex and beautifully crafted, Snook Alone stands out among the 2010 picture book crop.

Living on an island with his master, monk Abba Jacob, rat terrier Snook provides companionship and vermin control. When the pair visits a new island to catalog the plants and animals found there, a storm leaves them separated. Snook explores his new home and waits to see if Abba Jacob will return. The eventual (and emotional) reunion of dog and master brings the story to a satisfying conclusion.

The intricate, poetic text doesn’t exactly scream picture book audience (kindergarten-2nd grade). An excerpt:

Sometimes Snook watched the birds.
The fairy terns, arrowlike white creatures,
quick and agile, flew in mated pairs,
dive-bombing the sea and flying home
with little fishes dangling from their beaks
like handlebar mustaches.

Younger readers may have a hard time following, but this is stellar stuff for kids with a couple more years under their belts. And the complexity goes beyond vocabulary. The story itself, full of references to the natural world, invites all sorts of questions and areas to explore.

The artwork is Caldecott-level outstanding. It must be viewed up close to be truly appreciated. Ering (Necks Out for Adventure, Finn Throws a Fit) mixes sweeping acrylic and ink vistas with spot illustrations, giving this modern story the look of a timeless tale.

A bit lengthy for your standard story time, Snook Alone is more suited to intimate settings, like classroom sharing and individual or one-on-one reading. With its impressive use of description, I can see it working well for lessons on writing craft.

While the appeals of Snook Alone might not lure wide swaths of readers, man is it well done. A book that deserves a spot in your collection.

Review copy courtesy of Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan.

This book is nominated for a Cybils award in the Fiction Picture Book Category.

Watch Marilyn Nelson and Timothy Basil Ering talk about the creation of Snook Alone at the 2010 National Book Festival:

Also reviewed by Bookends.

Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.

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. Love Ering’s art. Pretty much always.

  2. I’m so glad you loved this as much as we did. I couldn’t agree more that the art is Caldecott-level. The whole package is amazing. It is one of those books that doesn’t seem to tidily fit into a category but I think it’s has such richness that people will discover endless ways to use it.

    My grandsons are 7 and we read this together. We took it slowly – a page or two a morning so we could talk about the story and the vocabulary. They ended up loving the book and it was a great reading experience for us to share.