The Snow Leopard
by Jackie Morris
(Frances Lincoln, 2008)
On her fascinating web-page about the process of creating The Snow Leopard (Frances Lincoln, 2008), author and illustrator Jackie Morris says:
Many years ago I bought The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. At last I settled to read it, thinking it was about the search for the leopard. It wasn’t, it was a search for other things, but the book created wonderful images in my head, images of wildness and patience.
Her beautiful book is about much more than the snow leopard too – I would say that she has pulled those images of wildness and patience into a magical story that proffers inspiration both to help in the conservation of this extremely rare animal and to live in peace and harmony with our surroundings.
The story reads like a poem, in rich, sonorous prose that emphasises its sense of timelessness. To give a bare outline, the Snow Leopard is “the great ghost cat” whose song from the beginning of time “clothed the world in white and built a crackling fortress of snow […] to keep all things safe and secret”. However, she is getting old and has begun her search for a successor. There is a child asleep in the village, who is dreaming her song. When soldiers attack the valley, the Snow Leopard carries her to the safety of the mountains…
The story is complex in all it has to offer about notions of identity and safety, and of respect for what is precious to life: themes which have particular resonance in today’s world. Jackie’s stunning watercolour illustrations get this across too, both through the sweeping Himalayan landscapes and in the uncanny depth of expression in her characters’ eyes. While young listeners will immediately be enchanted by the story and its illustrations, something of its deeper message will hopefully find its way into their hearts.