Children, it’s chilly outside. Perhaps it would be smarter - and warmer - to read about flamingos and desert islands. But no. Let’s wallow in - and celebrate - the glory and goosebumps of winter. These new books should help.
“Is That You, Winter?” by Steven Gammell
Cold toes. Cold nose. Who’s responsible for this misery? Old Man Winter, who else? In this whimsical tale, Winter is a grumpy codger dressed in a 10-gallon hat, green down vest and duck boots. “Late again!” he grouses, as he dresses for work. Coffee mug in hand, he leaves his log cabin (perched precariously atop a hill) and climbs into his truck. Flying off into the sky, the old man lets loose an icy blast, scattering snow everywhere. Winter wonders, as do many of us, why he keeps doing this every year.
The answer, and a surprise ending, comes when he slides off his cliff into the midst of children playing in the snow. Gammell’s illustrations are splotchy, quirky, colorful and completely charming. He has won one Caldecott Medal for “Song and Dance Man” and two Caldecott honors for “The Relatives Came,” and “Where the Buffaloes Began.” (Harcourt Brace, all ages, 32 pgs., $16)
“Winter White,” by Joanne Ryder
From the far north, here’s another answer to the question: “Why winter?” This tale begins on a hot day with two tricksters, Fox and Lemming, discussing the swarming mosquitoes. Winter, who looks like a polar bear, comes along and sings a high, howling tune. Snow begins to fall. Soon everything is covered in a blanket of white. The mosquitoes disappear. The snow is useful in other ways, too. It’s fun to play in and good for hiding. Fox and Lemming want it to stay, so they trade it to Winter for their sun. Now it’s dark and cold year-round. Getting the sun back involves some complicated trickery, which takes many months and has to be repeated each year. The creatures learn to treasure the sun. Ryder’s watercolors offer a realistic picture of the far north, an interesting contrast to the imaginative story. (Morrow, ages 5 and up, 32 pgs., $16)
“Baby in a Basket” by Gloria Rand
Alaska in the winter of 1917 is the setting of this thrilling and scary true story. You might want to assure young children in advance that there is a happy ending. Marie Boyer and her two tiny daughters were headed south to wait out the winter in Seattle. They, along with two other passengers, bundled up for a 10-day sleigh ride to the seaport. Betty and her mother rode snuggled in a nest of blankets and fur. Baby Ann has her own little nest, a basket lined with fur and covered with heavy canvas. The trip through the winter woods was at first beautiful and interesting. But after a few days, the weather grew more intense. Late one day, the wind picked up as the horse-drawn sleigh approached a narrow log bridge. The lead horse panicked and ran off the bridge into the ice-covered river. Marie and the other adults frantically searched for the two children. Betty was pulled from under the ice, cold but unharmed (scary illustration). But there’s no sign of the baby. Finally, even Marie is too cold and exhausted to keep searching. The group seeks refuge in a nearby roadhouse. Don’t forget, there’s a happy ending. It involves two trappers and a cozy, secure little basket that slid along safely atop the ice-covered river. The masterful Ted Rand illustrates his wife’s exciting story. He’s great at painting children, animals, action and the outdoors, so his work is perfect for this tale. The Rands live in the Seattle area. (Dutton, ages 5 and up, 32 pgs., $14.99)
“Marven of the Great North Woods” by Kathryn Lasky
The year after the Boyer’s adventure in Alaska, a young Jewish boy in Duluth, Minn. is sent north to escape an influenza epidemic. Marven is the author’s father. At age 10, he boarded a train headed for a logging camp in the north woods. The towering trees, vast expanses of snow, and huge lumberjacks made Marven feel small and very lonely - until he is befriended by a bearish French-Canadian logger. Marven’s time at the logging camp makes an interesting and touching tale that is enhanced by the soft paintings of Kevin Hawkes. Call this a “storybook,” because though it looks like a picture book, the story is longer. (Harcourt Brace, ages 6 and up, 48 pgs., $16)
“Snowball” by Nina Crews
The weather report says snow. But it doesn’t snow on Monday, or Tuesday, either. Wednesday is cold and gray. Finally, Thursday night the young narrator dreams about a perfect snowball, and wakes Friday to find she can make her dream come true. Waiting for snow is an oft-seen theme in children’s books. But Crews’ imaginative photo-collages give the theme a fresh twist. The narrator is a dimpled little black girl. Multiculturalism is the norm these days in children’s publishing. But there is still a great need for everyday stories that feature children of color. (Greenwillow, 32 pgs., ages 2 and up, $15)
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