High in the Hindu Kush mountains of Pakistan, two snow leopard cubs curl up in a den while they await their mother’s return. The small male cub ventures out to explore, only to be spotted by a hungry golden eagle. Mother arrives in time to growl and swat and rescue her cub. In this way, he learns his first lesson: “Outside the den, it’s a dangerous world.”
The brother and sister cubs cuddle, play and pounce, all the while building muscles and growing in strength and agility. They survive by their mother’s wits, as she kills the prey that will nourish them. Just as important, though, are the vital skills she teaches her cubs so they will develop their own hunting prowess. They learn to mark their territory, to hunt quietly and quickly, to guard their food, to find shelter from a storm, and to stay away from humans.
Markle, the author of more than 200 nonfiction books, excels at capturing thrilling moments in animals’ existence. Snow School demonstrates her skill at pacing and her shrewd selection of words to inform and to engage a young audience. She uses muscular verbs such as thrust, drag, munch, and tumble. Here’s how she evokes the mother’s daring chase of an ibex that lags behind: The ibex “runs fast downhill, leaping, twisting, turning. The cat charges after it–stays balanced–and pounces.” Such lyrical text makes for an absorbing read-aloud experience, especially as Markle repeatedly evokes the particular lesson the cubs learn from their mother.
Nearly all readers will paw over the snowy, energetic watercolor-and-pencil illustrations by Alan Marks, who succeeds in highlighting the snow leopards’ strength, grace, and speed.
The author provides additional information about these endangered animals, suggested titles, and a note about her research methods. Snow School belongs in every public or elementary-school library, as it is precisely the kind of engaging nonfiction that children crave. (Recommended for ages 8+)
See also …