It’s winter, and I hope to see some snow. I live in the South, though. Even though schools will close at the mere mention of snow, it’s not often that we see more than an inch. But what I can do, especially with my own children and other children in my life, is return to the best picture books about snow, both old and new.
When I think about the classic picture books, Peter immediately comes to mind. That is, Ezra Jack Keats’ utterly perfect 1963 Caldecott winner, The Snowy Day, all about a young boy’s fascination with the snow that had fallen during the night and “covered everything as far as he could see.” It is a book filled with wonder and Keats’ sophisticated artwork (with a seemingly simple appearance). Then there’s also Uri Shulevitz’s Snow, which received a Caldecott Honor (1999). This is a tale that also exudes wonder, but almost flake by flake until the “whole city is white.” I have such fond memories of sharing this as a school librarian with children.
In thinking about 2014’s picture books about snow, there are two I think will delight and entertain children. First up is Deirdre Gill’s Outside, which was released in November and tells the story of one young boy’s magic-filled adventure on a very snowy day. He can’t quite convince his brother to play outside with him, so he heads out alone. He makes snow angels, tries once again to lure his brother out, and then makes a huge snowman. Readers who aren’t in a tremendous hurry (and we should never read our picture books in a tremendous hurry, I have to add!) will note the creaturelike qualities of the massive trees near the boy’s house, as if magic lurks on the edges of his day. Then, sure enough, the snowman he’s built comes alive, and the two of them build a huge snow castle. A dragon suddenly appears (in a glorious orange-hued spread), taking the boy on a breathtaking flight. When the boy heads back home at dusk, his brother is finally outside, there at the door to meet him and play in the snow.
The oil paintings are beautiful, and the story, a tribute to the imagination of children, is enchanting. It’s almost as if the words are redundant; if you “read” the book without reading the text, it’s perfectly understandable—and even more goosebump-inducing. There are some really spellbinding moments here, and I look forward to what Gill does next, especially as this is her picture book debut.
Next up, coming to shelves at the very end of this year, is Peter McCarty’s First Snow. It’s the story of Sancho and his sisters’ visitor, their cousin Pedro. When Sancho tells Pedro it’s starting to snow, he says that he’s never seen it, nor does he think he will like it. “Because it is cold,” he tells Sancho. “And I don’t like cold.” After it snows all during the night, Pedro wakes up feeling confused over everyone’s utter glee. Pedro joins his cousins outside anyway. They try to get him to make snow angels and taste the snowflakes on his tongue, but his response to nearly everything? The cold bothers him. Humbug.
But then someone grabs a sled and suggests they go down a big hill. “Why do you go up?” asks Pedro. “To go back down,” someone says. Pedro finally sleds. And these spreads of his joy-filled romp down the snow are such fun, really capturing the exhilaration children feel on a flight down a hard-core, very steep hill.
Best of all, Pedro is finally won over. He’s turned to the snow side—and readers sense he won’t soon forget his winter visit to his cousins’.
McCarty has a style all his own, which includes, in this case, his quirky dog characters on spare, uncluttered, sepia-toned backgrounds, though when the neighborhood kids show up to sled, he introduces what the Kirkus review for another McCarty book calls the “interspecies amiability” for which he’s known; here are anthropomorphized birds, cats, squirrels and more. His watercolors are wonderfully textured with soft pastels for the splashes of color throughout. It’s fun, this one.
Here’s hoping you engage in your own exhilarating flights downhill this winter, and since it’s not likely I’ll get enough snow for one of my own, won’t you please sled one for me?
OUTSIDE. Copyright © 2014 by Deirdre Gill. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.