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Down the Snow Stairs Review by Kathy and Linda Gelzer

By Alice Corkran
Salem Ridge Press LLC
4263 Salem Drive
Emmaus, PA 18049

Down the Snow Stairs, originally published in 1887, is an allegory. It reminds me of Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio, A Christmas Carol, Pilgrim's Progress, and Dante's Inferno all rolled into one. The black-and-white illustrations by Gordon Browne are very detailed and interesting. They occur every three to five pages.

In the beginning of this book, eight-year-old Kitty is in her bed trying to fall asleep on Christmas Eve night. Her little brother, Johnny, is very sick as a result of her disobedience. Johnny, who is crippled and weak, is not supposed to play outside in the snow, but Kitty took him out to see the wonderful snowman she and the gardener had made. Now he is gravely ill and might not recover. As she lies in bed, she remembers what the doctor said earlier that day: "If he pulls through tonight . . ."

Following a vision of the snowman, Kitty journeys down a snow staircase and through the woods to Naughty Children Land and then to Punishment Land, where she encounters various naughty children and evil creatures. Many sinful behaviors are demonstrated in their actions (e.g., vanity, lying, greed, gluttony, and selfishness). While some of the creatures are very funny, young or sensitive children may find some things in the story upsetting: children who are entangled in a giant spider web for telling falsehoods, a boy who mistreats his dog and eventually kills it through neglect, and lazy children who have only stumps for legs because they would not use them, just to name a few.

In Naughty Children Land, Kitty meets Daddy Coax. He can't bear to see children punished, so he tries to bribe, distract, and otherwise "coax" the naughty children into behaving well. Not only is he ineffective, the children have absolutely no respect for him and resort to treating him cruelly. He plays the fool as Kitty can plainly see. "Daddy Coax's school should be called the place where children are taught to be naughty," she says. There is some wisdom here for parents.

It is only in Punishment Land that the children are sorry for their sins and long for "the kiss of forgiveness," which Lady Love informs Kitty can only be received on Christmas Day. Upon receiving this kiss, they are freed from the results of their sins.

In her journey through the woods to home, Kitty must follow the star and not stray from the path. She is accompanied by a guardian child on one shoulder and a naughty sprite on the other. Along the way she is tempted to stop or stray by the goblins Sloth, Vanity, Greediness, and Selfishness and counseled in opposite ways by the spirits on her shoulders. Kitty succumbs to temptation and disobeys. When Love asks her later if she has strayed at all on her journey, she is tempted to lie, but she finally confesses her sin and is allowed through the gate to her home. She finds herself back in bed. Johnny is better too, having slept well through the night.

According to the cover, this 257-page hardcover book is for ages eight to adult, or it can be a read-aloud for ages four and up. I would agree. It holds more appeal for girls than boys and probably is better as a read-aloud. Though my eight-year-old daughter liked the book, she had a hard time telling if the story was a dream or what it really was. I think discussion questions at the end of the book would be an excellent addition, and those would give the parent an opportunity to clear up any confusion and talk about all the rich meaning. Down the Snow Stairs contains so much important symbolism and you want to be sure the children don't miss it. For example, it is not until she reaches Punishment Land that Kitty meets Love, which communicates to the reader that discipline and love go hand in hand.

Down the Snow Stairs does an excellent job of demonstrating the contrast between sin and obedience and the consequences of both. The moral of the story is: don't disobey, and this lesson comes through loud and clear.

Product review by Kathy and Linda Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May 2007