I have always lived in the Northeast, so I’ve gotten used to large snowstorms. When I was small, storms were big and exciting, promising candlelight and cancelled school (for my parents, of course, they promised slippery roads and power outages). There’s no denying that this weather is lovely, but even for literary characters, it has two sides: the story of Brave Irene, by William Steig, captures this wonderfully.
Irene Bobbin is the daughter of a dressmaker, who has made a gorgeous gown for the duchess to wear at her ball. When Mrs. Bobbin falls ill on the day of the ball, Irene offers to deliver the dress herself, despite the snowstorm raging outside (“But I love snow,” she insists as her mother tells her that it is too long and dangerous a trip). Tenacious Irene tucks her mother in, then begins her long journey–on foot–with the dress in its large and cumbersome box. The wind is whipping through the bare trees and the snow is blinding, but Irene refuses to give up, even as the elements are telling her to turn back.
Brave Irene is an adventure that captures the imagination. Steig’s wonderful descriptions of the “ill-tempered” wind and blinding snow make you feel as if you are there with Irene as she faces each new obstacle. His illustrations draw readers in as we watch Irene fighting the storm–and ultimately winning. Irene is a great character to root for, and the relentless snow is a subject that Northerners of any age can relate to.
Brave Irene is about a young girl who is not fearless, but she still shows great courage. (In other words, she has the capabilities of a real human being.) She takes care of her mother and uses her head to get herself out of a bind, and her bravery is rewarded. Without being preachy, this wonderful story illustrates true perseverance. Irene’s journey is full of suspense and adventure and is wonderful to read, silently or aloud.
William Steig has won awards for many of his books, including Doctor De Soto, The Amazing Bone, and Abel’s Island, and has had great success with Shrek. Still, Brave Irene has remained relatively unknown (and also happens to be my absolute favourite). Mr. Steig has a way with words, and his illustrations are full of new details to discover. Brave Irene is truly a hidden gem, and the perfect story to read this winter.