I greatly enjoyed Nancy Campbell’s “The Library of Ice” last year, so when I was alerted that she’d written this gem of a book about snow and its cultural and mythological status I just had to say yes to a copy. I’ve said this before recently, but once again: great Christmas present.

It’s a lovely object and the contents, fifty words for snow and/or ice from around the world, both fascinating and strangely moving, and with a strong underlying message about climate change, as so many of the snowfields and glaciers mentioned are disappearing with global warming.

Each short chapter has the same format: a snowflake image on the facing page, the word in the original language, a translation into English and a note of which language it belongs to. Happily, this includes American Sign Language, when it comes to “Snowboarding”. The text below could be anything from an imaginary tale of a cave artist to a discussion of philosophy, climate science or mountaineering. We move from the most traditional craft activities to state-of-the-art mapping of snow leopard populations across borders and we even find places where people haven’t set foot out of respect for holy mountains and diminishing icefalls. I did love this theme of respect that resonated through the book.

You learn a lot even in the short texts: did you knowthat parts of the Antarctic are officially desert with no snow falling (actually I did know that but I do read a lot of polar exploration stuff). It was good to come across terms I recognised from other reading – sastrugi for instance, those pesky ridges that form on ice sheets but also help you navigate in poor light conditions.

Not every word about snow describes something that actually happens (I mean, Icelandic has a word for railway station and Iceland has no trains, so this is not uncommon, but it’s still fun). The chapter on the Thai word for snow revolves around whether it has actually ever snowed in Thailand or not. And there’s fake snow and a fascinating piece about the company that makes most of it for the world’s film industry.

Campbell is a careful writer, making sure she honours traditional and indigenous people, never drawing amusement where it’s not warranted, and noting colonial pasts and modern incursions into pristine places.

The book is a beautiful hardback with decorated cloth covers rather than a dust jacket. It’s printed in dark blue ink, and every entry is accompanied by a unique, stunning image of a snowflake – these are taken from the first known photographs of snow, by Wilson Bentley, who died in the 1930s.

Thank you to the publisher, Elliot and Thompson, for sending me a copy in return for an honest review. I am last on the blog tour, but you can see all the previous bloggers here!