The Secret Life of a Snowflake: An Up-Close Look at the Art and Science of Snowflakes

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by Kenneth Libbrecht. Nonfiction Picture Book. 48 pages. Grades 4-9.
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Review

cover art

Using a microscope, Libbrecht, a physicist, takes photos of snowflakes. The photos are simply stunning. No unit on snow or winter is complete without this or one of his books for adults.

The author describes how he takes the photos and he uses a penny to show us the relative size of the snowflakes that we'll see throughout the book. He includes an explanation of why snow appears white even though the ice crystals that make up snow are clear. Next we follow the creation of a snowflake starting with the stage of the water cycle where water in oceans and lakes evaporate and form clouds. A tiny water droplet freezes and the surrounding water vapor collects on the tiny ice crystal to build up the snowflake.

When conditions are just right this forms a beautiful six-pointed snowflake. The way in which water molecules line up when they freeze means they can't have four or seven points. Only six. The key hexagon shape is diagramed and shown in more photos of beautiful snowflakes.

Six-pointed snow flakes can grow during their paths down through the clouds in a tremendously wide variety of ways so that no two are alike. Simple and tiny snowflakes are often alike because there is such a limited number of ways the small crystals can form.

Photos of non stereotypical snowflakes are next. Many snowstorms consist of snowflakes shaped like short skinny columns called ice needles. Still odder are ones called capped columns which look like cable spools with a small snowflake for the top and bottom and a skinny spindle connecting them.

This is a wonderful science and photography book. Use it with Snowflake Bentley (see below) and other books about scientists because we get a glimpse of Libbrecht's work through this book. This also belongs in any unit on crystal formation or weather. Instructions on how to cut a scientifically correct snowflake out of paper are included.

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Related Books

  • cover art Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. Illustrated by Mary Azarian. (1998, Houghton. ISBN 0395861624. Order Info.) Picture Book, Nonfiction. 32 pages. Gr 2-9.
    Snowflake Bentley celebrates one man's lifelong passion. Wilson Bentley was fascinated by snowflakes. Born in Vermont where, as the text says, "Snow in Vermont is as common as dirt" in 1865, his parents supported his interest, spending their savings to buy him a camera and microscope. His thousands of photographs are still used in studies today. Martin tells the tale simply with sidebars adding further information about the science behind Bentley's studies. Azarian's illustrations are woodcuts and suit the lyrical text perfectly. Read More in our Featured Book Teachers Guide including activities, related books, and links.

  • cover artWalter Wick's A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder (Scholastic, 1997 ISBN 0590221973.Order Info.) is a perfect follow-up book to The Secret Life of Snowflakes. Wick uses stop-action photographs to demonstrate the properties of water and one incredible series of photographs and suggested activities revolve around snowflakes.

  • Snow by Uri Shulevitz. Book Review.

  • The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. Random House. 1979. Order Info.

  • Keats, Ezra Jack. The Snowy Day. Viking, 1962. 32 pp. Order Info.

  • Steig, William. Brave Irene. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986. 32 pp. Order Info.
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