Written in 1986 and winner of the Smarties Grand Prix (British equivalent of the Newbery Award) The Snow Spider is book one in the fabulous Magician's Trilogy by Jenny Nimmo. Set in Wales, the characters all have magical sounding Welsh names that are sometimes hard to read, let alone pronounce. But, rather than weighting down the writing this makes the story all the more intriguing, as does the Welsh mythology that Nimmo weaves into the plot. The story begins when Gwydion Gwyn's grandmother, Nain, gives hims five unusual gifts for his ninth birthday. These gifts will help to determine if Gwyn is a magician like his ancestral namesake, Math, Lord of Gwynedd, Gwydion and Gilfaethwy, who lived in the nearby hills thousand years ago. A piece of seaweed, a tin whistle, a twisted metal brooch, a small broken horse and a yellow scarf that belonged to Gwyn's missing older sister Bethan make up the gifts from Nain. However, since Gwynn's birthday has not been celebrated in the four years since Bethan disappeared (on his birthday) the assortment from Nain, even though it is unwrapped and odd, is in no way disappointing to Gwyn. The ruckus his father makes when he discovers the Gwyn's mother has chosen this year to begin celebrating Gwyn's birthday again does upset him, though.
Bethan disappeared when she climbed the mountain behind their house in the middle of the night and the middle of a storm to find Gwyn's missing black sheep and his father holds him responsible for the family's loss and can not get on with his life. Gwyn wants nothing more than to have his sister back. Going on intuition alone, Gwyn goes up the mountain with one of the objects Nain gave him and has a magical experience. The wind whips is and the brooch flies out of his hand. When everything quiets down again he finds a snowy white spider clinging to him. As the spider, whom Nain names Arianwen, which means white silver in Welsh, begins to weave a web, things begin to change for Gwyn, but not in the way he had hoped. Gwyn finds a window to a magical snowy world populated with pale, happy children as well as a foster child new to town who looks remarkably like Bethan except for her fair coloring. Before he can connect the two odd occurrences, Arianwen is washed down the drain by his mother and Gwyn resorts to the last bit of magic in his possession - the broken horse statue with the tiny tag on it reading "Dim hon!" In Welsh, dim hon means "not this," and Gwyn soon finds out why.
The storm that the horse brings on puts everything and everyone Gwyn loves in jeopardy and it is up to him to cast a spell that can stop it. Upon rereading The Snow Spider, I am again amazed by the intensity and content of such a short story. The magic and conflict are abstract enough that it should only trouble a very sensitive reader. However, the personal decisions and responsibility that Gwyn struggles with will feel familiar to all children, especially those with siblings.
Emlyn's Moon and The Chestnut Soldier are books 2 and 3 in the series and Gwyn's neighbors, the Lloyd children, all seven of them, play much bigger roles in these books..