Cold Night, Brittle Light


32 pages
ISBN 1-55143-009-6
DDC jC813'.54




Illustrations by Henry Fernandes
Reviewed by Lisa Arsenault

Lisa Arsenault is an elementary-school teacher in Ajax, Ontario.


On one of the coldest winter days ever, a little girl waits anxiously
for her father to come home. To help relieve her tension, her
grandfather begins to tell her stories about strange things that have
happened during other cold snaps: about the time it was so cold that
when Grandmother took the gingerbread men out of the oven they took one
look and crawled back in, locking the door behind them; or the time
Grandfather was standing outside and blew a kiss to Grandmother in the
doorway—it was so cold the kiss froze into a solid lump and hit
Grandmother in the forehead.

The narrator herself becomes a spinner of these tall tales when she
sees the northern lights, which appear as the long day wears into night,
freeze in the sky. When her father finally comes home, she slams the
door thankfully behind her and the sharp noise causes the northern
lights to fall as frozen colored splinters to the ground. One of the
shards cuts the electricity cable, leaving the family in darkness. The
girl gathers up some of the splinters, puts them in the oven and heats
them until light comes rippling out of the stove. By the glow of the
northern lights, the family continues their activities, and Grandfather
continues his storytelling.

This story’s inspired use of language is exemplified by the following
description of the northern lights: “It was like someone was rolling
out a bolt of shot silk across the sky, and giving it a shake from time
to time, making the colours shimmy and dance against the black.” The
author also has a good ear for dialogue. Speech patterns ring true:
Grandfather and Grandmother, for instance, have a down-home, country
style. The book is very funny, and children will enjoy Grandfather’s
outrageous stories. Highly recommended.


Thompson, Richard., “Cold Night, Brittle Light,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,