The cover of author/illustrator Lita Judge’s latest picture book Red Sled gives a clear hint as to the mischievousness within its pages: A young boy, so layered in warm winter clothes that he looks like he might topple at any moment, turns to see an impish-looking bear and his rabbit sidekick walking off in the deep snow with a tantalizing red sled. Open the pages of this one, brimming with an infectious cheer, and you’re in for quite an adventure.

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The back-flap bio on Judge’s book tells us that she was born in Alaska and grew up in the woods of Wisconsin. So, this is someone who knows the sheer joy of one kickin’-good romp through the snow on a zippy-fast sled, which is what this book boils down to. And you don’t want to miss it.

“Scrinch scrunch” goes the young boy in the snow, back home as day turns to night. He leaves his trusty red sled by the side of the house, propped next to a window. “Hrmmm?” says a bear, as he turns the corner of the house in the next spread. He wants that sled all for his own. Off he goes in the snow with his own scrunch-scrinching. And the next spread? It’s like an invigorating blast of winter winds. The bear is off, his rabbit friend in his lap, and they’re zooming down a hillside on the coveted sled, complete with a host of sound effects that ripple through their adventure (some “yeee”s here and “gadung gadung gadungs” there).

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Various animals in the woods spot the fun and join in the ride, all starting with the moose. He sees the eye-catching “alley-oop” moment during which the bear is sliding down on his back, as the rabbit rests on his upturned feet. Before you know it, the three of them are off down another hill, the bear resting on the moose’s huge antlers. By the time it’s all said and done, six other forest creatures have joined the bear and rabbit in what looks like the ride of their lives.

There are so many things Judge does well with this exuberant book and her illustrations, rendered in pencil and watercolor—the glowing, night-time palette and perfectly placed splashes of bright red (including the boy’s winter hat); the delightful onomatopoeia, making this one a great read-aloud, particularly for a group of children; the energy that pops from the pages; and her arrangement of all the visual elements in this mostly wordless book. But best of all is her use of perspective. In more than one instance, readers are placed right in front of the full-speed-ahead animals, as if they’re only inches from being knocked over. We’re up close, seeing the looks of both glee and terror on the faces of these creatures. It’s both thrilling and hysterical in spots.

There certainly isn’t a shortage of picture books about snow. But this one is an exceptionally good winter book, as well as one of 2011’s best picture book titles overall.  

Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.