This children's book makes you feel warm and cozy, as if you're sitting by an old-fashioned fireplace or stove. First published 75 years ago, it gives a sense of another time and place while charming the reader.
Hilda van Stockum, then a young art student in Dublin, started working on the illustrations in 1932, drawing on her childhood memories of Holland and skating on the canals there. The story followed the lively pictures. She explained these circumstances in her introduction to the 60th anniversary edition, in 1994.
She wrote in that introduction: "I was so absorbed in my task that once, having been brought a cup of tea by my mother, I accidentally dipped my brush in it while slowly sipping the paint water!"
The book has the same absorbing quality for readers. In it low-key, sweet way, it draws you into a world of frozen canals, lines of boys and girls skating in tandem, cracking ice, grand old cathedrals, snowball fights and hot chocolate and spice cakes.
But the story is not just fun and current buns. Pigtailed little Afke and her brother Evert develop as characters during their skating picnic, as do their friends. They get to know their shy classmate better and he no longer feels lonely. Hidden under the homey story are timeless lessons.
A Day On Skates; A Day on Skates: The Story of a Dutch Picnic