Off the Shelf: A familiar folktale

“The Snow Child” tells a whimsical, yet supremely real tale of heartache on the Last Frontier

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ive. (Photo via

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ive. (Photo via

It drew my eye at one of the book kiosks at Ted Stevens International Airport. A simple cover: an illustration of a small blond girl wearing a blue coat and red mittens peeking out from behind snowy birch trees. A black and white “Pulitzer Prize Finalist,” badge shining brightly in the upper right corner.

A familiar sight on Alaska bookshelves, “The Snow Child” tells a whimsical, yet supremely real tale of heartache on the Last Frontier. Author Eowyn Ivey, who hails from the Matanuska-Susitna area, sets the story against the landscape of Southcentral Alaska. She more than once alludes to landmarks that will undoubtedly ring familiar to peninsula readers.

“It was a beauty that ripped you open and scoured you clean so that you were left helpless and exposed, if you lived at all,” Ivery writes in one chapter.

The story is based on a Russian folktale in which a childless couple build a snow child who comes to life. Ivey’s story follows a couple homesteading in Alpine in the 1920s. I interpreted Alpine to be near Sutton, as that is where Ivey is from, and indeed the characters are described to have arrived at their homestead via railroad after landing in Seward.

It’s a haunting tale of both Alaskan ruggedness and majesty; Ivey articulates the splendor of Southcentral in the way only someone who lives in Alaska can. It endears you to the story, but also to Ivey as a writer. Incorporated into the work are passages from various iterations of the same story: they hint at plot developments and connect “The Snow Child” to a rich literary canon.

The titular character reminds me of Elsa, from Disney’s “Frozen,” and indeed she is just as compelling a character. The couple at the center of the story feel familiar; like people I would run into at Three Bears or Kaladi’s. They are supremely real and portrayed in a way that has you rooting for their happiness.

The rich atmosphere of the “The Snow Child” makes it a perfect companion for a cold snowy day. I definitely plan to revisit it come winter.

Eowyn Ivey spent nine years working as a reporter and editor for the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman newspaper. The Snow Child was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and was published in 2012 by Reagan Arthur/Back Bay Books.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at

Off the Shelf is a bimonthly literature column written by the staff of The Peninsula Clarion that features reviews and recommendations of books and other texts through a contemporary lens.

More in Life

Minister’s Message: How to grow old and not waste your life

At its core, the Bible speaks a great deal about the time allotted for one’s life

Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura and Stephen McKinley Henderson appear in “Civil War.” (Promotional photo courtesy A24)
Review: An unexpected battle for empathy in ‘Civil War’

Garland’s new film comments on political and personal divisions through a unique lens of conflict on American soil

What are almost certainly members of the Grönroos family pose in front of their Anchor Point home in this undated photograph courtesy of William Wade Carroll. The cabin was built in about 1903-04 just north of the mouth of the Anchor River.
Fresh Start: The Grönroos Family Story— Part 2

The five-member Grönroos family immigrated from Finland to Alaska in 1903 and 1904

Aurora Bukac is Alice in a rehearsal of Seward High School Theatre Collective’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” at Seward High School in Seward, Alaska, on Thursday, April 11, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Seward in ‘Wonderland’

Seward High School Theatre Collective celebrates resurgence of theater on Eastern Kenai Peninsula

These poppy seed muffins are enhanced with the flavor of almonds. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
The smell of almonds and early mornings

These almond poppy seed muffins are quick and easy to make and great for early mornings

Bill Holt tells a fishing tale at Odie’s Deli on Friday, June 2, 2017 in Soldotna, Alaska. Holt was among the seven storytellers in the latest session of True Tales Told Live, an occasional storytelling event co-founded by Pegge Erkeneff, Jenny Nyman, and Kaitlin Vadla. (Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion file)
Storytelling series returns with tales about ‘making the most of it’

The next True Tales, Told Live will be held Friday, April 12 at The Goods Sustainable Grocery starting at 6:30 p.m.

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Sometimes they come back

This following historical incident resurfaced during dinner last week when we were matching, “Hey, do you remember when…?” gotchas

Art by Soldotna High School student Emily Day is displayed as part of the 33rd Annual Visual Feast at the Kenai Art Center on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Creating art and artists

Exhibition showcases student talent and local art programs

The Canadian steamship Princess Victoria collided with an American vessel, the S.S. Admiral Sampson, which sank quickly in Puget Sound in August 1914. (Otto T. Frasch photo, copyright by David C. Chapman, “O.T. Frasch, Seattle” webpage)
Fresh Start: The Grönroos Family Story — Part 1

The Grönroos family settled just north of the mouth of the Anchor River

Most Read