The Ice Children

Illustrated by Penny Neville-Lee

“One snowflake will melt on its own, but billions of them together … are powerful enough to change the face of a planet.” (242)

M. G. Leonard’s The Ice Children follows Bianca, whose little brother Finn is discovered as a smiling ice statue in the city park. Bianca suspects this has something to do with a silvery sparkling library book Finn wouldn’t show her and four bizarre children who make everything feel colder (Jack Frost, the twins Hail and Sleet, and the North Wind). She tries to prove the connection, but adults won’t believe her, and more of the city’s children—Bianca’s friends—are frozen each day. Eventually, she manages to get her hands on the book and it transports her to a wintery wonderland controlled by the beautiful, dangerous Snow Queen, who has captured the children to save herself.

The Ice Children addresses the prospect of global warming by celebrating the beautiful weather, plants, and animals we would lose in a world with no winter or icy places, and it offers a hopeful, determined, planetarianist ending. The story’s structure imitates the timelines and tipping points of global warming on a smaller scale through the daily discovery of more children who have been frozen, which is a condition that will become irreversible at the winter solstice. Yet the book’s tone is planetarianist, not weighted by dread. Bianca’s friends are frozen with “a happy grin” (33) and “an enigmatic smile” (36) after they discover the wonder of winter and wish for its return; descriptions consistently convey “the joy and beauty” of winter (224), both in the city and in the Snow Queen’s imagined northern realm. Each child’s love for the winter animal they discover in the winter queen’s realm (reindeer, narwhal, snow hare, etc.) opens a way of discussing the climate grief children may feel around biodiversity loss. The liberating function of tears, adapted from the fairytales, suggests the possibility of channeling climate grief into hopeful planetarianism.

Bianca’s failure to convince adults to take appropriate action in the first half of the story illustrates how difficult it can be to instigate collective action, especially for children, but she ultimately succeeds. The main characters in the epilogue encouragingly model real ways children can plan to build a better world by becoming scientists or writers and voting or getting involved in government at local and national level to regulate businesses and build sustainable infrastructure like wind farms (see youth climate activism).

©2024 ClimateLit (Catherine Olver)

Introduction by the author:

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books, 2023

Pages: 267

ISBN: 978-1035014217

Audience: Questers (8-13)

Format: Novels

Topics: Biodiversity Loss, Climate Change, Climate Grief, Collective Action, Global Warming, Planetarianism, Tipping Points, Youth Climate Activism