Caitlin Minamiji, age 10: At the beginning of The Little General and the Giant Snowflake, the Little General is finishing his tea while watching his favorite program, Order in the Wilderness. That episode was about lemmings. Lemmings are very cute, and they follow anything anywhere. The little general first sees The Giant Snowflake hovering over his flowers. He draws his sword and shouts “Get off of my flowers!” And he heads down to the battlefield. The Little General and the Giant Snowflake is good for a bedtime story for kids under the age of 8.
The war is one of conflicting ideologies, with one side wishing to impose its view of order upon the other. However, in contrast to the pointless battles of belief in our world, the war in The Little General and the Giant Snowflake, written by Matthea Harvey and illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel, is entirely one-sided, bloodless, and reaches a delightful conclusion.
The title character of Little General and the Giant Snowflake is a rigid ideologue whose approach to diplomacy is summed up in his conversation with one of his soldiers, Sergeant Samantha. “’Sergeant Samantha,’ barked the little general. ‘What are we fighting about today?’ … ‘I believe we’re fighting about the imagination again,’ said Sergeant Samantha. ‘The usual position I assume?’ asked the general. ‘Yes. We don’t believe in it. They do.’”
The war between the Realists, led by the little general, is a one-sided battle against the Dreamers, a group whose lives incorporate the imaginary constructs denied by the Realists. While the Realists assemble for battle every day at 4:00, their maneuvers are restricted to the practice of drills since the Dreamers simply won’t fight.
Matthea Harvey is a poet and instructor of poetry, and her skillful use of language and rhythm sets the pace and flow of the story. Early passages about the little general and the Realist army are clipped and ordered with a rhythm that is enhanced by frequent alliteration. “He noted with pleasure that the petunias along his pathway formed a perfect line.”
It is almost impossible to read sentences such as this aloud without emphasizing the staccato “P”. However, when the author reaches the descriptions of the Dreamers, the cadence slows, and the language is ripe with round vowels. “They didn’t wear uniforms. They didn’t practice formations and they were always playing games. One of their favorites was “The Bee Game,” where half the army pretended to be flowers and the other half came and tickled them, pretending to get nectar from under their armpits.”
While the language shifts are subtle, and Harvey avoids slipping into the singsong rhythm endemic in picture books, the changes in rhythm bring the story to life when read aloud.