Award-winning poet Matthea Harvey wasn’t sticking to conventional children’s pets stories when she wrote Cecil the Pet Glacier, published by Shorts and Wade in August 2014. The book, illustrated by Giselle Potter, follows young Ruby Small on a family vacation to Norway, where she grudgingly befriends a glacier – or rather, a piece of a calving glacier – named Cecil. Ruby didn’t want to go to Norway, and she doesn’t like her parents. Her father owns a topiary garden business, her mother makes tiaras, and they do lots of strange things – they play ping-pong on an airplanes and tango dance in the front yard. Their eccentricity embarrasses the little girl protagonist. Ruby just wants normal parents and a normal life. She certainly doesn’t want a pet glacier – she wants a dog.
Nonetheless, after Ruby discovers what she at first dubbed the “ice-pest,” Cecil, their paths seemed destined to stay intertwined. Cecil notices Ruby’s strengths early, and persists even when Ruby initially rejects him. “He would nudge the door, leaving a wet patch below the doorknob. After a bit, he would slide sadly back to his cooler.” Ultimately, the book provides a great moral about embracing your inner weird and creativity, as Ruby learns by the end of the story that Cecil the pet glacier isn’t so bad, and her eccentric and artsy parents aren’t so bad either.
Lots of kids grow up with or wanting a new pet, and lots of kids grow up wanting a different family, different parents, or a different life. Cecil the Pet Glacier is positive because it embraces this reality at the same time that it embraces the bizarre. How many kids do you know with a piece of a glacier following them around? But the book apparently goes over great with kids. One parent reviewing the book on The Picture Book Review said about her son that she “fear[s] if we ever do come face to face with a real glacier and a small bit doesn’t follow him around, he’s going to be sorely disappointed.”
— Danielle Davis (@writesinLA) May 13, 2014
Cecil the Pet Glacier is great too, because it gives young readers a quick and painless science lesson at the same time that it teaches them to value their individuality. The story inevitably exposes young kids to more geology and geography than your average fairy tale. All the visualizations and anthropomorphisms of Cecil the glacier will cause a young reader, or young listener, to think about what a glacier is, how it melts and freezes, and how fragile it really is. In fact, Cecil even almost dies from melting when he rushes out to rescue one of Ruby’s dolls that had been left out in the rain. And that’s the point when Ruby realizes how much she would miss him if he were gone. At that point, she calls out for his favorite food items, “Help! I need some ice water and a plate of pebbles!”
Cecil the Pet Glacier is not exactly an equivalent of The Giving Tree of glaciers, but it makes you think more about what glaciers are than most children’s books, and to care about them, too. As Potter’s surreal illustrations of Cecil and Cecil’s own story continue to charm you, you’ll start to find Cecil as engaging as Ruby ultimately does.