Winter in the San Francisco Bay Area brings rain, cooler temps, and Christmas lights decorating trees laden with citrus fruit. Since I grew up in Michigan, though, my winter memories feature snowstorms and snowball fights, sledding down snowy slopes, sliding and skating across icy ponds, knocking icicles dangling from eaves, and warming my chilled feet before the floor vent blowing heat. Consequently, I favor picture books that showcase the snowy magic and festive cheer of the winter and holiday seasons. Here, in no particular order, are a few of my favorites:
In Blizzard by John Rocco, record snowfall stymies a New England town and forces everyone to hunker down at home. Each day, as the landscape transforms, a boy reads an arctic survival guide and ultimately helps his neighbors by putting his newfound skills to use. Cartoon bubbles show each character’s dialogue, and playful images abound. For instance, each day of the week is cleverly spelled out by raisins, snowy script on a tree branch, footprints in the snow, and more. A fun gatefold spread maps the boy’s neighborhood expedition. Rocco’s own childhood experience of the Blizzard of 1978 served as inspiration for his narrator’s snowy adventure.
Another winter storm strikes in Debi Gliori’s The Snow Lambs. When Bess the sheepdog goes missing on a blustery, snowy night, a young boy named Sam worries how she will find her way home. Thanks to parallel illustrations, readers understand that Bess is on a rescue mission. While the righthand or recto pages include text and illustrations about Sam and his family, the lefthand or verso pages reveal the sheepdog’s parallel story only in illustrations. The white, gray, and black colors of Bess and the lost ewe in the snowstorm contrast pleasingly with the bright, warm colors of the family safe indoors, allowing readers to feel both the chill and thrill of Bess’s adventure and the cozy refuge of the family’s home.
Parallel stories also appear in Benji Davies’s The Snowflake. “High in the sky, one winter’s night, a snowflake was made.” She squeals with delight—until she begins to fall. “But I don’t want to fall,” she says. A cloud assures her that snowflakes are supposed to fall and that she will find her way. Meanwhile, in a faraway British town, a little girl wishes for snow and a glittering Christmas tree. She finds a pine branch and with her mummy and Pappie decorates it. By the story’s end, the snowflake and Noelle cross paths, and each discovers her shining place in the world. The beautiful illustrations and lovely language create a magical story with a hopeful and heartfelt message.
Christmas cheer spreads throughout the heartwarming story of Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry. Mr. Willowby’s Christmas tree has arrived in time for the season. However, he soon discovers that the tree is too tall for his parlor. He calls for Baxter the Butler to chop off the top. Baxter places the discarded tip on a silver tray and presents it to Miss Adelaide, the upstairs maid. Not surprisingly in this cumulative tale, Miss Adelaide finds that she needs her scissors to snip off a bit, and her castoff becomes Timm the Gardener’s holiday tree. After Mrs. Timm decides their snug home doesn’t need it all, she cuts and deposits another top, subsequently discovered by Barnaby Bear. This tree-top trimming continues until all the animals in the forest receive and celebrate their own Christmas tree. Much of the fun for readers comes from anticipating who might find the next bit of branch and from visiting various family homes. Playful rhymes (e.g., “Let’s trim it with bells and honey rings, / Some berries, and tinsel, and popcorn on strings.”), character-revealing artwork (e.g., Mama Bear’s frown betrays her disapproval when Barnaby recommends cutting a hunk from the trunk), and a satisfying circle back to Mr. Willowby make this a joyful holiday read.
Finally, I love following the travails of Tortoise in Katy Hudson’s A Loud Winter’s Nap. It’s winter and all Tortoise wants to do is to hibernate, but each time he tries to sleep, an animal friend disrupts his plan. Robin invites him to join a singing class. Rabbit suggests they make ice sculptures. Squirrel welcomes him to a snowball fight. Tortoise turns them all down by declaring, “Tortoises don’t like winter.” As in Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, readers delight in making predictions, in this case discovering who will next disturb Tortoise’s sleep and how. The twist comes when Tortoise accidentally snoozes on a sled that slides downhill and launches him into a new way of thinking: Maybe winter is more than cold and snow? Hudson’s cuddly-drawn characters, humorous details (e.g., a snow bunny and snow turtle; funny wood signs), and wintry Christmas touches (e.g., holly berries, pine trees, yellow lights decorating a house) create a charmingly entertaining tale.
What are your favorite winter/holiday picture books?