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The Little General and The Giant Snowflake

In this compelling tale, there is a little general who heads an army called the Realists. Every day he and his troops practice battle formations while the Dreamers, the opposing army, play strange, peaceful games. The little general's soldiers include Sergeant Samantha, who is very tall and wishes the general would pay more attention to her, and Lieutenant Lyle, an imaginative fellow who always seems to get into trouble.

One day the little general sees a giant snowflake hovering in his garden and realizes he is suffering from a disease of the imagination. He is ashamed and pretends not to see it, but eventually he discovers that everyone in his army has a similar problem. What magical message is the snowflake trying to bring to the general, and to the world? In a time of violent military solutions to global problems, this illustrated allegory by a leading poet has a particular, powerful  resonance.

  • Page Count: 64
  • Direct Price: $8.75
  • List Price: $10.95
  • 5 1/2 x 6 3/4
  • TC
  • November 2010
  • 978-0-9820539-1-1
Format Price

Price as Configured $0.00

Matthea Harvey is the author of Modern Life (Graywolf, 2007),Little Breathing Machine (Graywolf, 2004), and Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form (Alice James Books, 2000).Modern Life was a finalist for the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award. She is the winner of the prestigious Kingsly Tufts Poetry Prize for 2009. Harvey has served as the poetry editor of American Letters & Commentary, as well as a contributing editor to jubilatand BOMB. She teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence and lives in Brooklyn.


Elizabeth Zechel is the author and illustrator of Mouse in the Baby's Room (Lark Books) and the illustrator of Bubby's Homemade Pies by Jen Bervin and Ron Silver (Wiley & Sons). She has also created illustrations and art for the Poetry Project Newsletter and the Joyce Dance Theater, along with cover art for Tremble and Shine by poet Todd Colby (Soft Skull Press) and The To Sound by poet Eric Baus (Verse Press).

"Both Zechel's whimsical grayscale drawings and Harvey's lovely, straightforward prose are characterized by an understated sense of humor that should give the book crossover potential."
Publishers Weekly

"This charming little book is totally unexpected and charming. Its beautiful drawings are a perfect pairing for this unique find." 
—Salt Lake City's Deseret News

"Utterly charming—I love this little general and the strange and wondrous and precise world he lives in: the Thursday Jacket, the Alphabetize the Attic! (laughed out loud there), the disease books, the very touching moment with the snowflake being revealed as proportional to denial. I'm so glad you did it. And the drawings are just perfect—love the bookshelves, the dnacing Lyle, the expressions. I can't wait to have my own copy all bound and beautiful."
—Aimee Bender, author of Willful Creatures

"Luckily for readers, poet Matthea Harvey has a delightful denouement that is sure to satisfy everyone—no matter which side of the realism/dreamer spectrum they happen to fall . . . the hushed black and white drawings by Elizabeth Zechel render this a cozy short read suitable for early-to-dark evenings by the fire." 
The Minneapolis Star Tribune

"For families looking for a charming bedtime story or a new tradition, The Little General and the Giant Snowflake fills the need admirably."


"The Little General and the Giant Snowflake is a fun read that teaches about imagination and how having an overactive on isn't a bad thing." 
The Midwest Book Review


“This story is full of imagination and takes you whole-heartily into the world of dreams where anything is possible.”

Portland Book Review

The Little General



Meanwhile, the little general, trying very hard not to see the snowflake that was twirling about on his front lawn, drew all the curtains in his house, picked his favorite book, So You Want To Alphabetize Your Attic, from his bookshelf, sat down in his armchair and pretended to read until lunchtime. For lunch he had two hardboiled eggs on two pieces of toast and one and a half glasses of milk. He washed the dishes, made sure that the kitchen chair was at a right angle to the table, put on his Thursday jacket and marched outside. The snowflake was nowhere to be seen.


“Aha!” said the little general. “Just as I thought. I must have had a fever. I’m perfectly all right.” And he marched briskly and happily down the hill to the battlefield.

  • I’ve heard you mention that The Little General came to you in a dream. Can you talk about the book’s genesis?


    About five years ago, I had a very vivid dream, in which I looked out a window (I was on the second floor of a stone house in England) and saw a smaller-than-usual Napoleon standing on the path below. Moments later, a giant snowflake obscured that view. The combination of the tiny general and the giant snowflake stuck in my head, and eventually I decided to try and write a story about it—partly as a way of understanding the dream. The story came very easily… Napoleon makes his way into my poems every now and then (I also had a pet blue and white budgerigar called Napoleon), because my father has read hundreds and hundreds of books about Napoleon. In this case, I made him a kind of “Everygeneral.”


  • In your poetry, do you often (or ever) find yourself pulling imagery from dreams? 


    Sometimes. The title of my first book of poems, Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form came to me in a dream. In my second book, the poem, “The Crowds Cheered As Gloom Galloped Away” came from a dream I had while I was doing a residency at VCCA. In it, I opened a suitcase of sorts (I now have a case like this, but it holds a cocktail shakers and other cocktail tools) and in it was a bottle of antidepressants and a number of tiny living ponies. A dream about being in a mechanical park with my friend Anna Rabinowitz turned into the poem “Color by Number,” and in Modern Life, the demi-title poem, “Implications for Modern Life” stems from a rather alarming dream I had about fields and fields of ham flowers. I was off ham for about three years after that.


  • Are there any particular children’s books that you love? If you had kids, what would you be reading them?


    Growing up, I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton—especially her Faraway Tree series. I was having dinner with my sister and her two-year old son yesterday and I said something about “fish ice-cream” and she said, “you’re thinking of The Faraway Tree,” which, in a way, I always am.  That series is so wonderfully imagined—the main conceit is that there’s this tree with a cloud at the top and different lands arrive there. Apparently the children had fish ice cream in the Land of Eat-What-You-Want, or some similarly named land. Predictably, I also liked all the orphaned girl stories—The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, as well as Noel Streatfield’s series, Ballet Shoes,Skating Shoes, Tennis Shoes

    I have a lovely pack of nephews, nieces, godsons and friends’ children now, so I’m always looking out for books to give them. Some of my favorites are George Saunders’ The Very Loathsome Gappers of Frip, illustrated by Lane Smith, Jack Prelutsky’s Scranimals, illustrated by Peter Sis, a book that features wonderful animal-food hybrids—broccolions and antelopetunias and Giselle Potter’s The Year I Didn’t Go to School and The Boy Who Loved Words. I also like giving them handmade books by graphic novelists and artists—Long-Tailed Kitty by Lark Pien (“You’re not on my side, sand in the pants”) and Pencil Pie: A Comic for Tiny Babies by Doug McNamara (“Pinkle tinkle pencil pie, robot squirrels walking by…”) are both genius books.


  • As someone used to the solitary work of a poet, how was it collaborating with Elizabeth Zechel (the illustrator)?


    It was wonderful. Elizabeth is a dream collaborator. The first day I went over to her house, she had baked a cake and then introduced me to her four cats, and I thought, “She’s the one!” If you’re like me and can’t draw, it’s an amazing gift to have someone take your words (and your feedback) to visually create the world you’ve imagined. Elizabeth got the little general just right—with his puffed-out chest, his luxurious moustache, and sad eyes (I found a real approximation of him on a moustache contest website) and we had really interesting conversations about what degree of realism vs. cartoonishness would be right for the book. Often she did a drawing that I could never have imagined that way, like the image that shows the Realists getting confused while trying to a difficult formation—I loved that she made a map of their footprints hover over their heads.

    We’re working on another book right now, called These Birds Don’t Fly: An Alphabet of Absurd Birds.


  • I know that you’re a big fan of graphic novels. Should we expect an interplay of words and pictures in your future work, or are you strictly back to poems these days?


    Good guess! Amy Jean Porter and I are collaborating on a book called Of Lamb, which is an erasure of a Charles Lamb biography, with images (more independent imaginative acts than illustrations) by Amy Jean. My next book of poems will also have a combination of text and image. In that one, I’m collaborating with myself— writing poems that have photographs as their titles (about 2” x 2”). The photographs are usually miniature scenes that I set up, which is great fun, but it makes the process of completing one poem about ten times longer.


  • You once wrote a poem to be read along with Philip Glass’ String Quartet Number 5. Is there a piece of music you’d recommend to accompany The Little General?


    Hmm. To start with he’d probably like some John Philip Sousa, but by the end of the story, he’d be open to listening to Air’s Love 2.


  • In The Little General, there’s a war under way between the Realists and the Dreamers. Who would you take in a fight between Borges and Balzac?


    Ah, but there isn’t really a war. The little general just thinks there might be one. If I had to choose a side, it would be Borges.


  • Between the slashing of arts’ budgets, and the emphasis that No Child Left Behind puts on test scores, there’s no question that imagination has taken a backseat in American schools. How can we ensure kids don’t view imagination as a triviality, or, as the Little General’s encyclopedia puts it, a “disease”?


    The cuts in arts funding worry me a great deal, because for me, the delights of school were precisely in those arts programs that are now disappearing. But I don’t think children think about whether or not to be imaginative—at a certain age, they just are, whether they’re making up words, “pillowboat” for sofa or “sleepblow” for snoring (two favorites from a Mr. Solomon Cravitz and a Mr. Toby Campbell, both three and under) or playing out vivid flying baby fantasies. Later on, I think that imagination sometimes get labeled “silly” or “childish,” which is a shame if it’s meant in a negative sense. If you read The Little General I think it’s clear that I’d like as much imagination in my life as possible.