A charmingly illustrated catalog of things to do in the snow, Berger’s latest nonetheless lacks a narrative to hold it together.
After a gentle snowstorm, people come out to enjoy some winter fun. “Emma got to make the first tracks in the snow… // but then Leo whooshed by on his skis. // Otto got lost in a deep drift. // Sasha and Max showered Oscar with a wild flurry of snowballs….” And so it continues—a loose collection of winter activities, characters’ names blending together and becoming meaningless in their sheer number—19 by the end, none repeating. They climb to the top of a snow mountain; build a fort and snowmen; sled; ice skate; make snow angels; and even open an icicle stand. As dusk descends, the warm lights guide them toward home, warm clothing and hot chocolate. The muted colors, clothing styles and sparse details in both the illustrations and the text lend this a retro feel that is echoed in the old-fashioned sleds and skates and the rustic, small-town setting. Berger’s now-trademark illustration style is much in evidence here, white ephemera providing a snowy backdrop, while collaged elements give a 3-D, scrapbook effect. Quirky characters sport pointed orange noses and round heads like snowmen, making each one seem like a combination person/bird.
With no story to follow, readers are not likely to ask for rereadings, however masterful the images.
(Picture book. 2-5)
In his fourth outing (Haunted House, Haunted Mouse, 2011, etc.), Mouse has a snowy adventure that could easily make the jump to being a wordless Pixar short.
Cox’s hapless Mouse doesn’t let anything get him down, making him a character sure to enjoy a wide fan base. Ebbeler’s comical acrylic illustrations are the stars here, depicting the undertakings of the accidentally swept-out Mouse as he explores and makes the most of the snowy landscape out of doors. Making the acquaintance of three southbound, camera-wearing, suitcase-toting, sombrero-wearing birds who watch and influence his activities, Mouse ice skates in a puddle, toboggans on a leaf and makes some rad snow sculptures of his new friends. Throughout, the cat just misses pouncing on the Stuart Little–esque Mouse, but not for lack of (repeated) trying. And when Mouse makes it back to the warmth of the house, he remembers “the quivery, shivery, hungry birds,” ending the tale with a gentle, feel-good message perfectly delivered. Ebbeler brings readers into the setting with everyday details—the ugly, crisscrossing power lines, boot treads and wonderfully textured fur and feathers, but it’s the humorous details that will stand out to readers—don’t miss the rooftop snow sculpture.
Readers will look forward to taking this snow-day romp again and again.
(Picture book. 4-8)
A pourquoi tale about how Father Snow sought colors for the snow from the flowers is fodder for a father’s winter bedtime tale.
Once, the snow was clear and colorless, but a meadow of brilliant flowers leads Father Snow to wonder what colored snow might be like. The violet is willing to lend him some of her color, but just as the snow starts to turn purple, she grabs her hue back: “But I…I need my color.” He gets the same reaction from the yellow sunflower, the red rose, the green blade of grass, the blue cornflower and many other brightly colored flowers. Finally, he queries one last flower, white with tiny bells, and the snowdrop grants the snow her white color. Didacticism runs rampant through Janisch’s translated text, seen most clearly in the adverbs: The flowers all snatch their colors back hastily, impetuously, bitterly, carelessly. But what makes it so confusing is that Leffler’s illustrations never make it clear what the flowers are so afraid of—their unexpected and uncalled-for rudeness seems both out of place and over the top, since they are never portrayed as colorless, even while Father Snow tests out their colors. Her flowers have an old-fashioned color and style to them, and Father Snow is a transparent outline that takes on the color of the anthropomorphized bloom he is speaking to.
Even the sparkles on the cover may not be enough to redeem this wintry counting book, the author’s debut.
The almost nonexistent story loosely follows a snowboy as he adventures across the snowy landscape, meeting and playing with friends along the way and escaping from a fox who wants to eat his new rabbit pals. Numbers connect everything as the text counts from one to 10 and back down again in both numbers and numerals. This is a rhyming book, though the rhymes cross page turns: “One snowboy all alone. // Two children unaware. // Three ancient apple trees. // Four apples in the air.” This interrupts the rhythm, particularly for children who wish to linger over Wendy Wahman’s digital illustrations. Sharply defined, stylized shapes and flat, though vibrant, colors mark her distinctive illustrative style, but it may not be to everyone’s taste, with its flower-patterned fish, fixedly-smiling snow people and unkindness of unfriendly-looking ravens. The details that readers are likely to enjoy are often too small to see—the knitting spiders, for instance. Indeed, the tiny Photoshop illustrations will make this difficult to share with even small groups. Also, even the youngest of children may spot the gloves amid what should be the “Eight mittens in a row.”
Count on skipping this one in favor of a celebration of winter that has a more obvious storyline.
(Picture book. 3-5)
A long-tailed rabbit who wants a nibble of the highest, tastiest leaves uses his special snow song in the summertime, despite the protests of the other animals.
The Bruchacs’ Iroquois pourquoi tale tells how selfish Rabbit, who is short on patience, simply cannot wait for natural snow, no matter that the other forest denizens are not yet ready for winter. Drum in hand, he sings as he dances in a circle: “I will make it snow, AZIKANAPO!” (It won’t take much coaching before listeners join in with this and other infectious refrains.) Like the Energizer Bunny, Rabbit just keeps going; by the time he ceases his drumming, only the top of the tallest tree is left sticking above the snow. Exhausted, Rabbit curls up on this branch and sleeps through the night and the hot sunshine of the next day, which melts all the snow. Stepping from his treetop, Rabbit gets a terrible surprise when he falls to the ground, his long bushy tail catching on each branch he passes and making the first pussy willows. And that is why rabbits now have short tails. Newman’s watercolor, gouache and ink illustrations are an interesting mix of styles. Some foregrounds appear to be painted in a pointillist manner, and some of the animals are almost manga-esque, lacking any shading in their sharp outlines and flat colors.
Kids who are looking forward to a snow day may give Rabbit’s chant a try, but hopefully, they will know when to stop.
(Picture book. 3-7)
This odd but sweet tale is flavored with a bit of O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi.”
Luna, in her igloo, and Bear, in a snow cave in Luna’s garden, are the best of friends in their snowy world (with not another soul, including a parent for Luna, in sight). They do everything together, and when Bear finds a wonderful yellow flower (a long-stemmed crocus?) blooming in the snow, he knows just whom to give it to. Luna is thrilled with the sunshine flower, but when it dies, nothing can bring back her smile. Desperate to cheer up his friend, Bear sets off on a worldwide search for another sunshine flower, while back at home, Luna pines for her best friend. A stray snowflake on Bear’s nose points him, empty-handed, toward home, where Luna has a surprise of her own—she planted a seed from the first flower and grew her own, saving the rest of the seeds to plant with her friend, who brought her smile back. Allsop’s friends are full of expression, the simply drawn cuddly polar bear managing to convey emotion, while her adorable, Inuit-looking girl displays great body language. Her watercolors beautifully juxtapose warm and cool colors, though the spare typeface doesn’t match the tone of the artwork.
This friendship tale definitely has a message, but readers may not be able to find it under the snow.
(Picture book. 4-7)
This tale of a constructed friend charms with its magic and imagination.
A Friday snow day keeps George home from school, trapped inside and bored as the snow continues to fall. But Saturday is a great play-outside day, so George dons his warm winter clothes. The next few pages are an expository-writing teacher’s dream, as the text and realistic-looking illustrations team up to create a guide to building a snowman. A few household items, some sticks and George’s hard work, and the snowman is complete. Through some unknown magic, George’s snowman comes to life and responds when George offers him a snack. The two spend the day chasing each other and flinging snowballs. On Sunday, a warmer day, George’s snowman doesn’t have as much energy. Monday, a school day, is even hotter. When George gets off the school bus, he finds a small heap of snow decorated with some buttons, a scarf and a carrot (in the illustration, it looks like a jumbled pile of white fleece fabric). But Tuesday brings more snow, and George cannot wait…“to build his snowman again.” Readers will have no doubt that George’s lively snowman will return.
Though this doesn’t quite match the allure of Michael Garland’s Christmas Magic (2001) or the pure fun of Caralyn and Mark Buehner’s Snowmen at Night (2002), it is a nice cross between the two that will have kids rolling snowman pieces with dedicated purpose.
(Picture book. 4-8)
A community caught under the pall of a weeklong cold snap comes together in this cozy, old-fashioned story that is high on both charm and appeal.
The Toby Mills cold snap begins innocently enough on a Friday, with snow angels, sledding and an icicle on the nose of the statue of the town founder. On Saturday, soup and stew are popular menu items at the diner, and the icicle is chin-length. On Sunday, the heavily clothed townspeople shiver through church services. Wednesday is so cold that the mayor wears his robe and pink bunny slippers…at work. By Friday, the statue’s icicle reaches the ground, along with everyone’s patience. But the mayor’s wife has just the solution—a warm winter surprise that brings out the best in everyone and makes them forget the cold. The quaint details in Spinelli’s text that are brought to life in Priceman’s gouache illustrations make this book stand out, giving it the air of an old-fashioned seek-and-find. “Franky Tornetta stopped whining about his itchy woolen socks and put on three pairs,” and there he is in the picture, green socks layered over red and yellow. Boldly colored vignettes and spreads that depict the small-town setting and round-headed, pink-cheeked characters enhance the retro feel of the book.
This may not be the most exciting or enthralling winter tale, but it is perfect for sharing during readers’ own cold snaps—calming, reassuring, charming.
(Picture book. 4-8)
Winter on a Maine farm offers the joys of ice in all its forms.
Icy childhood memories glisten in this magical series of nostalgic vignettes. From the first skim on a pail to the soft, splotchy rink surface at the end of the season, Obed recalls the delights of what others might have found a dreary season. The best thing about ice is skating: in fields, on a creek or frozen lake and, especially, on the garden rink. In a series of short scenes presented chronologically, the author describes each ice stage in vivid detail, adding suspense with a surprising midwinter thaw and peaking with an ice show. Her language shimmers and sparkles; it reads like poetry. Readers will have no trouble visualizing the mirror of black ice on a lake where their “blades spit out silver,” or the “long black snake” of a garden hose used to spray the water for their homemade rink. McClintock’s numerous line drawings add to the delight. They show children testing the ice in a pail, a father waltzing with a broom, joyous children gliding down a hill in a neighbor’s frozen field. One double-page spread shows the narrator and her sister figure skating at night, imagining an admiring crowd. The perfect ice—and skating—of dreams concludes her catalog.
The Buehners continue their snowmen-come-to-life shtick with this look at occupations.
A boy who made a snowman the night before awakens to find new snow on the ground but already-cleared walkways—by his snowman? “Was he the one who shoveled, with a snowman shoveling crew? / Could it be I just don’t see that snowmen have jobs too?” Caralyn Buehner’s rhyming verses then lead readers in an imaginative tour of other jobs snowmen might have: mechanic (for sleds), grocer, baker, magician, firefighter, “pizza man,” factory worker and truck driver. Each work scene is filled with familiar occupational details, like the clip that attaches the dentist’s cloth around patients’ necks and the decorations that adorn the classroom—it’s just the characters that seem out of place to 98.6-degree readers. Especially fun is the pet store, where all the animals are made of snow: a snow rabbit with carrot ears, a snow monkey swinging from the lights and “coldfish” in a tank. Hat, mitten and scarf styles add personality to the characters—don’t miss the librarian’s and teacher’s. A seek-and-find element adds to the fun of poring over the pages—a cat, rabbit, T-rex and mouse are hidden in each painting.
Fans and those looking for books about occupations may find themselves looking askance at every snowman they see.
(Picture book. 3-7)
A young girl’s first-person narration brings a New England sled ride to life.
But this isn’t just any sled ride. Inspired by ice-crusted snow, Grampa Bud’s yarns of his childhood and a giant homemade double-runner sled, seven friends set out to conquer the “highest, mightiest, iciest sledding hill.” Rule lengthens out one sled run into an entire book, but its pace is not slow and clunky, nor does it drag. Instead, she marvels in the details along the way, building up the suspense. Comically, the children attempt to get themselves and the sled to the top of the hill, taking each other out like dominoes as they relentlessly and repeatedly slide down to form a pig pile at the bottom. When they finally manage it, Thermes beautifully conveys the awesomeness of the hill they have chosen to tackle; none of the kids will speak their fears aloud, though their faces say volumes. The trip down is accomplished in just a few spreads, a ride so fast that tears, fears, screams and laughter all get whipped, “like a beautiful scarf trailing wildly behind.” The watercolors give a wonderful array of viewpoints, showing the path of the sled run as well as close-ups of the children: fresh-faced and having the time of their lives.
Parents beware: Children are likely to scout out the highest hill to try to replicate this amazing run.
(Picture book. 4-8)
Community dissension and compromise are brought down to a kid’s level in this tale of a giant snowman.
With a little help from their family, some equipment and Mother Nature, Cami Lou and her little brother build a huge snowman sporting a hat, scarf and arms with five mittens/gloves each. “Then Cami Lou cheered / as she stood down below. / ‘We’ll call you Snowzilla! / Our giant of snow!’ ” People come from all around to see Snowzilla, but when the townspeople complain of blocked views, scared pets and the threat of flood, the judge rules that he must go. The modern-day girl turns to social media to save her snowman, and the next day, in an operation that could be likened to the moving of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, people turn out in droves to help hoist and move Snowzilla. But for all the hoopla, Cami Lou is not particularly sad when Snowzilla melts—she is busy planning something even bigger for next year, a disconnect that might catch readers’ attention. Haley’s brightly colored acrylic-and–colored-pencil artwork lends a festive feel to the text. Over-the-top patterns and styles of winter clothing, along with the hairstyles and grimaces of the sourpusses, give her characters personality. The power of a community to pull together and solve problems is definitely in evidence here, though the tale’s sheer implausibility and its sometimes-stumbling rhythms may turn readers off.
Ultimately like Snowzilla—fluff.
(Picture book. 4-7)
This sharing lesson is about as didactic as they come.
Little Snowman Stan lives with his friends (oddly, there are no family relationships) in Freezeland, where it is always cold and snowy. While the snowmen all look a little different, each wears a hat of some sort. That is, until Dmitri arrives without one—a blizzard blew his hat away: “Sad and without my hat, I kept going. Until I arrived here.” Impetuously, the generous and bighearted Stan hands over his own blue plaid hat so Dmitri can wear it for a few days. But Dmitri has no intention of giving it back. The snowmen meet and discuss solutions to the problem, but all focus on either punishing Dmitri or forcing either Dmitri or Stan to live hatless. But Stan comes up with a sharing solution acceptable to all: They will rotate the hats so that no one goes more than one day bareheaded. The watercolor snowmen convey emotion through the curve of their mouths and the roundness of their eyes. It’s a cute-enough, though plodding, story with sweet illustrations, but readers are practically hit over the head with the sharing message. Who knows, though—didactic sometimes proves to be pretty popular; look at Rainbow Fish.
Still, in this day and age of lice, parents may wish the snowmen shared something other than hats.
(Picture book. 3-6)