Snowflake Bentley

Do you enjoy a good story with compelling and memorable heroes and heroines? This monthly column features homeschooled characters in literature and film. Wish you had your own copy of the book or movie? Just click on the product image or text links to go to the author’s site or Amazon to buy it!

Snowflake Bentley

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin is a fact-filled history book, a rich science lesson, and an inspiring biography all in one. The 1999 Caldecott-Medal winner  is beautifully illustrated with colorful woodcut-style artwork. It tells the true story of a homeschooled Vermont farm boy, Wilson Bentley, who was mesmerized by snowflakes.

I never went to school until I was fourteen years old. My mother taught me at home. She had been a school-teacher before she married my father, and she instilled in me her love of knowledge and of the finer things of life. She had books, including a set of encyclopedia. I read them all.

And it was my mother that made it possible for me, at fifteen, to begin the work to which I have devoted my life. She had a small microscope which she had used in her school teaching. When the other boys of my age were playing with popguns and sling-shots, I was absorbed in studying things under this microscope: drops of water, tiny fragments of stone, a feather dropped from a bird’s wing, a delicately veined petal from some flower.

But always, from the very beginning, it was snowflakes that fascinated me.

At first Wilson started sketching the snow crystals. Then he read about a camera that took photographs through a microscope. Even though his father thought it was a foolish endeavor, his parents saved up their money and bought the bellows camera and macro lens for him when Wilson was seventeen. As the book says, “it cost as much as his father’s herd of ten cows.”

After that, Wilson’s childhood fascination with the six-sided frozen phenomena took on a more scientific leaning. For over a year he experimented with his microscope camera, which recorded images on large glass plates. It took a lot of persistence by trial and error before he finally reached his goal on January 15, 1885, the first photomicrograph ever taken of a single snow crystal.

“Snowflake Bentley” spent the rest of his life taking countless exquisite photographs. The phrase “no two snowflakes are alike” was originally coined by him. Bentley’s lifetime of dedication – not to mention obsession – to preserving the beauty of ephemeral snow crystals produced over 5,000 impressive snowflake images. Even today the images are used in nature illustration and graphic design, so you’ve probably seen one.

The hardcover Snowflake Bentley book is a wonderful winter-themed gift for homeschoolers, especially since Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley was homeschooled himself. Although written for ages 4-8, this book will also capture the interest of older readers including adults. A book to own, to give as a gift, and to share.

If you truly want a book for older readers, see The Snowflake Man: A Biography of Wilson A. Bentley. It’s an interesting 237-page biography written by an atmospheric scientist. The author not only describes the science of snowflakes, but provides an educational lesson about the revolutionary history of the Vermont region along with the life and times of Bentley’s family. He includes many anecdotal stories and letters, as well as quotes from Bentley’s own writings. What could have been a dull scientific book actually reads like graceful prose, giving a fascinating portrait of “The Snowflake Man.”

Snowflake Bentley is a perfect example of what one humble person can do to teach and inspire others to follow their passion. Anyone who has an interest in meteorology, photography, or the beauty of nature will appreciate the story of Bentley’s life.

Want to give a special gift to your favorite snowflake lover? Combine Snowflake Bentley and/or The Snowflake Man with an Amazon gift card in a snowflake tin.

For the artist in your family, you might also want to add Snowflakes in Photographs. It will inspire artists and designers in search of unique geometric patterns for their creative projects.

Read more about Wilson A. Bentley at

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