Kid's Stuff -- Books About Winter
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"Callie Cat, Ice Skater"
Written by Eileen Spinelli
Illustrated by Anne Kennedy
(Albert Whitman & Co., 2007)

Do what you love - because you love it! A nice story with a nice message, about a young girl (an anthropomorphized cat) who loves ice skating, gracefully gliding on the frozen pond near home anytime she can. When a skating contest is announced, her schoolfriends urge Callie to enter, and convince her that she just has to win. Although she becomes nervous, after Callie sees several other contestants fail, she starts to believe that, hey, maybe she will win! And yet, first place goes to another girl, and Callie is crushed. On the way home, her parents are appropriately supportive, telling her that what matters is that she tried her best, although her friends emphasize how disappointed she must feel. Callie keeps quiet, though, and the next day, she puts her skates back on, and goes back out on the ice, once again skating just for fun. This book deals with several important issues in a nice, gentle way -- peer pressure, learning to be resilient and deal with failure, and also learning to appreciate and enjoy things just for what they are, not for what they can get you. A nice parable for parents and kids dealing with competitive sports and other intense, passionate interests. Recommended! (B+)


"Duck Skates"
Written by Lynne Berry
Illustrated by Hiroe Nakata
(Henry Holt & Co., 2005)

Five little ducklings get bundled up and go for a wintertime romp, first some ice skating, then a snowball fight, and finally back home for the obligatory snacks, hot cocoa and nap. The text has joyful feel and a simple rhyming scheme -- what really makes this book a joy is Hiroe Nakata's vibrant, footloose artwork: I'm a fan. I see her name, and I'll definitely pick the book up. Add this one to your list of snowytime fun books! (B)


"On A Wintry Morning"
Written by Dori Chaconas
Illustrated by Steven L. Johnson
(Viking, 2000)

This book is nice in all warm and fuzzy -- maybe even a bit cloying -- a cuddly, action-packed, snowy morning father-daughter romp. They get bundled up, go sledding, catch snowflakes, climb on a horse-drawn sleigh, go into town and come back in time to take a nap... The artwork is nice, pastel pictures of father and child smiling at each other with glee and delight; the pictures are obviously photo-referenced (which I have a teensy problem with), but mostly are quite nice and make the book work. The text is a bit clumsy, though -- the meter of the poetry is a little wobbly and I found it a little hard to read. (Although my wife did not... so go figure.) Also, there's a slight continuity problem where, when they say the dad is buying the girl a puppy -- we see the little pooch on one page, but soon after the pup disappears from the book, never to be seen again... So, um, did he buy her the puppy, or didn't he? If he did, then, um... what happened to it? Can we get an editor in here, people?? Anyway, if you're looking for a happy, cute, daddy's little girl story, this one'll be on a lot of people's short list. (C+)


"Martin MacGregor's Snowman"
Written by Lisa Brodie Cook
Illustrated by Adam McCauley
(Walker Books, 2003)

In an abnormally warm winter, a boy named Martin MacGregor grows impatient for his chance to make a snowman, and comes up with all kinds of mischievous substitutes (shaving cream snowmen, etc.) that invariably get him in a lot of trouble. when at last, it does snow (in April) Martin makes a whole phalanx of snowpeople, but then when the weather turns rainy, he gets bored again and wishes for sun, so he could go swimming. A cute story about the human tendency towards dissatifaction, though the modeling of misbehavior, etc. is probably better for bigger kids to read. (B-)


"Cold Paws, Warm Heart"
Written by Madeleine Floyd
Illustrated by Madeleine Floyd
(Candlewick, 2005)

Inherently rather sad, this is a nice story about the redemptive power of friendship, although it's more about social isolation than anything else... A gentle polar bear named Cold Paws lives alone on a vast ice flow, sad and lonely because none of the other animals want to play with him. He spends his time alone, sometimes playing the flute in order to cheer himself up, but he always feels frozen and cold inside. When a young girl from a nearby village hears the music, she comes to investigate and winds up befriending the desolate bear, giving him winter clothes to wear, warm drinks and, ultimately, a lot of hearty hugs, all of which brings warmth into his life. The mechanics of the story, and of their friendship, are touching and sweet, although some kids may find the utter sadness of Cold Paws' life to be a bit disturbing... I did. It's a dark, yet tender tale. (B-)


"It's Fall!" (Millbrook Press, 2001)
"It's Winter!" (Millbrook Press, 2002)
"It's Spring!" (Millbrook Press, 2002)
"It's Summer!" (Millbrook Press, 2003)
Written by Linda Glaser
Illustrated by Susan Swan

The seasons are celebrated in this exuberant quartet of books... Graphically striking cut-paper artwork sets them apart.. The style might not be for everyone, but I like it. Like many let's-appreciate-nature books, this one gets a little bogged down in details at time, but for those of us with scientific and green-loving personalities, this is a fine series. (A)


"Lisa And The Snowman"
Written by Coby Hol
Illustrated by Coby Hol
(North South, 1989)

Translated from German, this is a sweet story about a girl who builds a snowman after the first big snowfall and then notices it looks glum without the right kind of hat on it... She tries out a few different chapeaus until she hits on the right one, and then old Snowy smiles at last... Nice magical thinking and delightful artwork, skillfully made from torn-up shreds of colored paper... Surprisingly expressive and full of life! (B+)


"Snowbaby Could Not Sleep"
Written by Kara LaReau
Illustrated by Jim Ishikawa
(Little Brown, 2005)

A very cute book about sleep issues.. Snowbaby is a little snowman whose parents try their best to get him to go to sleep... Their solutions feature cute try-and-get-him-colder ideas, like piling another blanket of snow on top of his bed, giving him an extra-icy glass of water, singing him Christmas carols, etc. When all that fails, they come up with an even better idea: giving Snowbaby a "toy" animal to snuggle with, in this case a snowman-style puppy that Snowbaby "helps" go to sleep -- singing to it, giving it more blanket, etc. The story is clever and well-played, and the artwork is very friendly, clear and funny. Nice sleepytime book -- nice for winter lovers as well! (B)


"Calendar"
Written by Myra Cohn Livingston
Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
(Holiday House, 2007)

A very pretty book with very few words. Ms. Livingston's poem in praise of the passing of the months was written in 1959 and clocks in at a mere fifty-five words; Will Hillenbrand's new, modern artwork makes the most of this sparseness, and each month gets a gorgeous, two-page spread (except December, which gets seven pages, so that Santa can slide down the chimney at the end...) The timing is a little off: the text flits by instantaneously, while the artwork really demands you drink it in, so you may find yourself extemporizing to come up with a reason to linger on the images. That's okay, though -- I think this one can stand up to repeat readings. Certainly a nice way to teach about the months and the passing of of the year. (B)


"A Really Good Snowman"
Written by Daniel J. Mahoney
Illustrated by Daniel J. Mahoney
(Clarion, 2005)

A touching story about an older brother, Jack, who doesn't want to play with his little sister, because he thinks she's a pest. Nancy always wants to "help" Jack, usually with disasterous results, and when she horns in on his participation in a local snowman building contest, Jack leaps at the first opportunity to ditch her. When some bigger kids start to pick on Nancy and make fun of her snowman, Jack sticks up for her and chases them off, and then realizes he has to help her out, instead of playing with his friends. In the process, he discovers that he can have fun playing with her, and strengthens their familial bond. The story is nice in several ways -- the book deftly deals with a complex issue (siblings who don't always get along) and Jack's transition into a more responsible, compassionate older sibling (and Nancy's reciprocal affection) is nice to see, and quite touching. It's also a good, not-too-scary depiction of bullying, and how to deal with it forthrightly. I also like the artwork.
(B+)


"Snow"
Written by Roy McKie
Illustrated by P.D. Eastman
(Random House/Beginner's Books, 1962)

A simple celebration of chilly, fluffy weather. A well-bundled-up boy and girl go out sledding and snowman-building, toss snowballs, go skiing and make a snow fort, all with their loyal dog in tow. The rhyming text is very simple -- the goal was for kids to read this by themselves -- so it may be a disappointment to science educators when the book asks "What makes it snow?" then replies "We do not know." (Although for little kids who just want to learn words, this might be a better answer than "A snowflake is an aggregate of ice crystal that forms while falling in and below a cloud" [Wikipedia]) Smooth, joyful, colorful artwork from P.D. Eastman completes the package, adding a pleasantly retro air that helps make this a perennial (and seasonal) favorite. (B)


"Winter Friends"
Written by Mary Quattlebaum
Illustrated by Hiroe Nakata
(Doubleday, 2005)

A series of interlinked wintertime poems, about snowfall, missing mittens and breathtaking sled rides. A little girl wakes up to see her city blanketed in snow, gets warmly dressed and goes out for a walk with her mom... On the way they find a lone mitten in the snow, then catching up to the boy who lost it, they give it back to him and then play outside all morning long. Later everyone goes to a big party with lots of kids, parents, warm drinks and yummy treats. The poems are uniformly nice and have a fair amount of literary heft; Hiroe Nakata's artwork perfectly compliments the text... She is one of the finest artists in the field these days, and helps the book evoke a wintery sense of wonder. (B+)


"I Am A Bunny"
Written by Ole Risom
Illustrated by Richard Scarry
(Golden Books, 1963)

A beautifully illustrated book showing a little bunny named Nicholas going through the seasons of the year -- picking flowers and chasing butterflies in the Spring, blowing dandelion seeds in the Summer, watching leaves fall in the Autumn, etc. The text is about as simple as you can get, but the artwork is extraordinary. Readers who are used to Richard Scarry's simpler, cartoonish work in his own books will be swept away by these gorgeously rich, detailed paintings. There is a sense of expansiveness and magic that's an utter delight. Don't rely on any of the truncated Golden Book anthologies for this story... You'll definitely want the full version; the rectangular board book is quite handsome and user-friendly. Risom also authored I Am A Fox, I Am A Puppy, etc., but most of the other books in the series feature other artists: this is one of Scarry's greatest works. (A)


"Snow Pumpkin"
Written by Carole Lexa Schaefer
Illustrated by Pierr Morgan
(Crown Books, 2000)

A nice wintertime story about an early snow that coincides with Halloween, allowing the narrator -- a young Asian-American girl -- to use a homegrown pumpkin as the head of her first snowman of the season. The action takes place in a friendly urban neighborhood, and as the kids are out playing in the snow, the girl's grandmother is busy making new Halloween costumes. I like the artwork, as well as the story's tangible, palpable feel -- you really feel like you know what her neighborhood is like, and I got a sense memory of having melting snow inside my mittens each time I read the story. The book was consistently engaging for my daughter as well. There are a couple places where the text was a little clunky; not in terms of the plot itself, but in the flow of words. Also, the author's insistence in placing the story into a rigid, awkward timeline -- the narrator is speaking "now" and refers back to action happening yesterday, this morning, etc. The point was to tie the story into the "tonight" of Halloween, but the payoff wasn't worth it. Everyone knows a book about pumpkins will be about Halloween anyway, and the book would have flowed better if all the text had been in the present tense. Other than that, though, this is a lovely book -- girl-friendly, multicultural, complex and entertaining, and with a lot of heart. Recommended! (B+)


"Winter Lullaby"
Written by Barbara Seuling
Illustrated by Greg Newbold
(Harcourt/Gulliver Books, 1998)

A rhyming celebration of the coming of winter, which asks, creature by creature, what do the animals do when winter comes. It culminates with humans, who cuddle up warm in their houses, touching along the way on mice, birds, bats and bees. The blocky acrylic paint artwork is a little kloodgey for my tastes, but not overpoweringly so -- the gentle text is nice and this is one of the better nature-appreciation picturebooks I've seen. Recommended! (B+)


"When Winter Comes"
Written by Nancy Van Laan
Illustrated by Susan Gaber
(Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, 2000)

One of the loveliest nature-appreciation, changing-of-the-seasons books I know of... Whereas many of this sort of book seem stilted or awkward, this hits every note perfectly. The artwork -- showing two parents ushering their (gender-nonspecific) child through a world of newly fallen snow -- has a feeling of expansiveness and wonder. The color tones are soft and compelling, and the layout captures a sense of nature's openness and vastness, supporting the text beautifully. In simple rhymes, the text asks where the various animals go -- field mice, fish, birds -- when winter arrives, ending, of course with the little human child nestled up snug in bed for naptime after a lovely walk in nature. It's a pretty book, well worth checking out... One of the few "nature books" my daughter has sat still for. (A)


"Sledding"
Written by Elizabeth Winthrop
Illustrated by Sarah Wilson
(Harper & Row, 1989)

A simple, down-to-basics celebration of sledding in the snow. Two little kids dress up in their boots, jackets, scarves and caps, then go out, climb a snowy hillside and zoom down it in their sled. Nothing super-special, but a nice read, nonetheless. Can I take my turn next?? (B-)




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