The Snow Goose ISBN: 9780091893828
Published by Random House Children's Publishers UK, 2007
This lyrically beautiful, classic picture book is a love story - love for animals and mankind in general, and love between a disfigured man and a young girl. Set in the 1930s , it tells of Philip Rhayader, a man with a humpback and a withered arm and a hand that is like a claw. He lives in an abandoned light house on the Great Marsh in Essex, and because he is a painter of birds and the bleak landscape, he makes friends with the geese and ducks who come to winter in his special place. The natives are a bit afraid of the strange man with his beard and dark eyes and disabilities, and so he lives quite alone, only going into a nearby town for provisions occasionally. One day a little girl arrives at the light house with an injured goose in her arms. She is frightened but knows that Philip has the reputation for being able to cure injured birds. He identifies the bird as a Canadian snow goose, blown off its course by storms. Frith, the little girl, watches as he takes care of the goose, and a unique friendship begins to develop. The goose flies away with other geese in the early summer, and until it comes back again the next autumn, Frith doesn't return to the light house. And so a pattern develops. Summers Frith stays away, but when the goose is in resident with the other geese, she comes often to help with the birds and to watch Robert paint his pictures. The years go on, and there comes a gentle realisation between the two of them that as Frith grows, their friendship grows too and begins to be special. Frith is a fairy-like girl, very beautiful and rather fey with special powers due to her Saxon forebears, and when Philip announces that he must take his boat to Dunkirk to rescue soldiers, Frith has a premonition that all will not be well. The story then moves on to be told by returning soldiers, who speak of a brave man with a hump back who rescues many before dying himself in the mayhem that was Dunkirk and of the big white goose that circled his little boat while gunfire was all around. Frith knows without being told that Philip will not return, and when the goose comes back on its own and circles round the tower before leaving for good, she know it is Philip giving her a last goodbye. The lyrical text and wonderfully soft-focus, intensely moving illustrations are a remarkable combination and could not be bettered in any way. Highly deserving of its classic renown, it provides both sadness and healing. A quite perfect book.