Picture Book Biography -
Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

This beautiful picture book biography tells the true story of the first known person to capture individual snowflakes in photographs for others to see.

Wilson "Willie" Bentley was a farmer from Vermont and fondly remembered as the Snowflake Man.  His story is one of sacrifice and passion - a story to inspire both young and old.

Snowflake Bentley was also awarded the Caldecott Medal for the best picture book in 1999 for its illustrations.

It begins...

In the days

when farmers worked with ox and sled

and cut the dark with lantern light,

there lived a boy who loved snow

more than anything else in the world.

Summary & Description - Picture Book Biography

As a young boy, Willie Bentley, became fascinated with the beauty of snowflakes.  Most people in Vermont thought snow was common as dirt, but Willie saw the uniqueness of individual flakes and wanted to share this with the world...and he did!  

His passion outweighed the sacrifices.  His parents sacrificed their savings to purchase a special camera which contained a microscope.  Willie sacrificed hours working in freezing conditions so the crystals wouldn't melt before he could photograph them.  He faced many failures before he succeeded and endured much teasing from others.

Wilson Bentley endured and persevered though.  He didn't give up and ultimately was able to have a book of his snowflake photographs published as his gift to the world.

Soon after his book was published, Willie walked out into yet another snowstorm to make more photos.  He became ill and died two weeks later.  He and his love for photographing snowflakes have not been forgotten though.  His home town built a monument to remember and after reading this picture book biography, we won't likely forget him either.

What I love about Snowflake Bentley

  • Versatile for Different Ages - This picture book biography is written in story form with additional interesting facts included on the side bars of many of the pages.  Written as a story makes for an easier read aloud for children, but for older children it is easy to go back and read the side bars at the end to review facts or read along the way.
  • Real Photograph Page - At the end is a page with a few of Wilson Bentley's actual snowflake photographs and another photo of the man with his camera.
  • Message of Perseverance - Wilson Bentley persevered and followed his passion even when others teased or the cold weather was unbearable.  He sacrificed so much to capture beauty all to share it with others.
  • Historical Value - Photography has come a long way since Wilson Bentley's standing box camera!  Use this picture book biography as a starting point to learn its historical significance and how modern progress of visual media has enhanced and changed our cultures.
  • Family Support - Although Willie's father at first thought his desire for a fancy camera to photograph snowflakes was foolishness, still his mother and father supported him.  Out of their love for him, they used their savings and purchased it for Willie.  The value of family standing alongside each other and encouraging goes a long way in members feeling valued themselves.

Enhance Development 

  • Fiction vs. Non Fiction:  A picture book biography is an ideal tool to teach children the difference between fiction and non fiction books.  They tell a story, but they tell a true story.
  • Social development:  Willie is teased and not understood by others around him, but he did not let that hold him back from his passion and continuing to do his best.
  • Uniqueness:  Take time to talk about the uniqueness Willie found in snowflakes; he never found two to be exactly the same.  Use this as a springboard to talk about how each of us are unique and special just like snowflakes.  Work with your child to compose their own biography; even small children can tell you simple things about themselves such as name, favorites, etc.  Remind them there is no one else with a biography (true story of their life) just like theirs!
    "I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    Your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well." - Psalm 139:14

  • Emotional development:  You may also want to talk about how Willie may have felt when being teased or when he failed.  Discuss some ways to handle similar situations.
  • Science of snowflakes:  Within the sidebars are interesting facts about how snowflakes are formed.
  • I Spy Words:  Even early readers can learn to look for specific words while reading.  There are many sight words within this book in addition to words repeated often such as  SNOW, CAMERA, PHOTOGRAPH, and CRYSTAL.
  • Compound words:  Identify and point our compound words such as snowflake, snowstorm, etc.  Talk about how two words are put together to form a compound word.

"Of all the forms of water, the tiny six-pointed crystals of ice called snow, that from in such quantities within the clouds during storms, are incomparably the most beautiful and varied."  

- W. A. Bentley

The Message

One message that is seen throughout this picture book biography is the benefits of persevering and not giving up.  Willie continued even when teased.  When he wasn't able to go to school much, he continued learning through reading encyclopedias and studying.  He endured freezing cold temperatures.  He didn't give up when he failed.

What a powerful lesson we all need to learn!  Circumstances can be hard and failure disappointing, but perseverance brings growth in our character and a wonderful sense of accomplishment when we don't give up.

A verse from the Bible speaks of this benefit of perseverance:

"Therefore, having been justified by faith, [a]we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we also have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and [b]we celebrate in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but [c]we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us."

- Romans 5:1-5

Unique 'Beyond the Read' Activities

  • For small children draw simple snowflake designs for them to trace with their fingers for fine motor skills.  You may even want to glue a little salt or sugar to your design to also make it a sensory activity.
  • Virtual visit to the Smithsonian Institution Archives to see William Bentley's actual snowflake photographs along with other classroom activities.
  • Connect the science of snowflakes with a lesson from the Bible and how to make your own paper snowflakes.