We’re almost a week into December and nearing the official start of winter in the northern hemisphere. Whether you’re eagerly awaiting the first snowfall or already up to your knees in it, here are some of my favorite books about winter and snow for children of all ages:
In First Snow, written and beautifully illustrated by Kim Lewis, a sheepfarmer’s wife and young daughter climb the hill to feed the sheep. As the season’s first snow begins to fall, Sara is excited, but drops her teddy in their hurry to get home. What has become of him? What makes this book so wonderful are the illustrations, which lovingly and realistically depict a farm and family in England’s Northumberland. (If you enjoy this book, try Lewis’s Floss, about a border collie.) [This book is out of print in the U.S.]
The Snow Lambs, by Debi Gliori, is also about a sheepfarming family. In this charming tale, Sam, his Dad, and their dogs round up the sheep as the snow begins to fall. But when the sheep are safely in the barn, Sam’s sheepdog Bess is nowhere to be found. Distraught, Sam gets ready for bed; side-by-side illustrations show Sam bathing and putting on his pajamas as Bess searches for and finds a missing ewe. A power outage, a raging stream, a downed tree, and Bess’s courage and tenacity combine to bring about a happy ending. [This book is out of print in the U.S.]
One of our favorite winter tales is Owl Moon, the 1988 Caldecott winner, in which a father takes his daughter “owling” on a cold winter’s night. Jane Yolen’s prose and John Schoenherr’s illustrations perfectly capture the magic of walking through snowy fields and woods in the moonlight, listening and watching for owls.
Ezra Jack Keats The Snowy Day, winner of the 1963 Caldecott Award, is probably the classic “snow” picture book. Illustrated mainly with paper cutouts, the spare text describes Peter’s adventures in an urban snowscape. It was a childhood favorite of mine, and it hasn’t lost any of its magic.
Snow Treasure, by Marie McSwigan, recounts how the children of a Norwegian village aid in smuggling some of the country’s gold reserves out of Nazi-occupied Norway. Hiding the gold bars, until now hidden in a snow cave, on their sleds, the children descend the mountain to a ship hidden in a narrow fjord, passing a Nazi encampment on their way. Though at least apocryphal and probably completely fictional, it remains a stirring and empowering story of courage and patriotism.
In The Children of Green Knowe (L. M. Boston), Tolly spends the Christmas holiday with his great-grandmother at her ancient manor, Green Knowe. There she tells him tales of the children who lived there centuries before: Toby, Alexander, and little Linnet. Interwoven with the stories are Granny and Tolly’s Christmas preparations and Tolly’s own experiences with the children, who playfully tease and tantalize him until they finally appear. Though technically ghosts, the children are delightful and not at all frightening to either Tolly or the reader. Suspense comes as Tolly learns more about the curse said to have been placed on a topiary Noah, the Green Noah from which the house takes its name, and reaches its peak on a stormy night. This is the first of six books set at Green Knowe, and remains my favorite for its perfect blending of fantasy and reality.