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Reviews of Winter Books for Children

 | Jan 11, 2012

As if bibliophiles need any reasons beyond the sheer pleasure of reading, the long, cold months of a harsh winter offer good excuses for curling up with a good book and experiencing that iciness and winter’s bluster vicariously. In this column, members of the International Reading Association's Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group take a look at books in which the winter season plays an important role.

Grades K-3

Brennan-Nelson, Denise. (2011). Willow and the snow day dance. Illus. by Cyd Moore.
Ann Arbor, MI: Sleeping Bear Press.

Willow and the Snow Day Dance book cover imageWillow and her family have moved into a new neighborhood in this second installment of the Willow series. Across the street lives snarly Mr. Larch who does not appear to want to make friends or neighbors. Undaunted, Willow plants a beautiful garden, shares the harvest with neighbors, and when winter arrives, starts a charity drive for mittens and hats for the needy. However, Willow is disappointed that there has been no snow so far, something she has been eagerly awaiting so that she will have a good sledding day. As Willow continues to wait for snowflakes, a strange “message” arrives with instructions for a snow day dance. Willow shares the instructions for the dance with her family and neighbors; they include strange directions such as wearing your pajamas backwards and romping on the bed! Since even Mr. Larch is wearing a smile, did he have something to do with the snow that appears the next day? Teachers will love the warmth and generosity of the lively community-spirited Willow. Willow has a website and a FaceBook page, and they can be accessed at http://willowlovesart.com/willow/ and http://www.facebook.com/pages/Willow-and-the-Snow-Day-Dance/174948975877042.
- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Casanova, Kate. (2011). Utterly otterly night. Illus. by Ard Hoyt. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Utterly Otterly Night book cover imageBeneath a blanket of snow, the otters are restless in their burrow, and they set out on an expedition above ground. Although it’s a cold winter night, Little Otter and his family frolic in the snow and icy water. But amid all their fun, they must still be cautious and watch for signs of danger from other animals.  When Little Otter spots five wolves, he tries to warn the family, and then lead the hungry predators away from the other unsuspecting otters. Using a combination of luck and the skills he honed through play, he zigs and zags across the snow, managing to escape from the wolves. The story contains several wonderful phrases that capture all the icy action such as "utterly, otterly way," "whooshily, shooshily way," "chompity, whompity, stomp," and "quakingly, shakingly way," (all unpaginated). The pen and ink illustrations are especially effective in highlighting the swift but playful movements of the otters and the other wildlife foraging in the snow.
- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Helquist, Brett. (2011). Bedtime for Bear. New York: Harper.

Bedtime for Bear book cover imageAlthough stories of bears getting ready for their long winter’s nap abound, this one is a welcome addition to that collection, deservedly having received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly. In this story, Helquist has created a visually active romp for Bear, giving him one last playtime before he hibernates for the winter. His rascally raccoon friends pester sleepy Bear until he finally comes outside for a very fun afternoon complete with snowballs, sleds and winter fun. Exhausted from all the activity by the end of the day, his friends retreat to their own beds to sleep, finally allowing Bear to begin his winter slumber. The illustrations are vibrant, and the story panels direct the story from text to speech bubbles. Young children will enjoy Bear’s repeated phrase: “It’s bedtime for bears.” Let children enjoy a coloring page from the book:
http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com/harperchildrensImages/Printable/bedtimeforbeardl.pdf
- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Messner, Kate. (2011). Over and under the snow. Illus. by Christopher Silas Neal. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Over and Under the Snow book cover imageOn a winter’s day spent skiing through the woods, a father uses the opportunity to teach his offspring about what lies beneath the snowy mantle that covers the ground. Although the blanket of snow hushes much of the world, she notices a quickly moving squirrel, the patterns of a deer’s tracks, and the patience of a fox listening for clues as to where his next meal might be hiding beneath the snow. Underneath that quiet coverlet, there are all sorts of living things, including shrews, voles, bullfrogs, a black bear, and even a queen bee, using the snow as protection from the cold or waiting out the winter beneath it. The author’s choice of words to describe the animals and their snowy setting is inspired, and may make some folks long to leave their warm houses for a wintry expedition. The final page with the youngster curled up in bed after an active day shows that humans and animals have more in common since she looks as though she’s nestled beneath a covering of her own. The mixed media illustrations are impressively detailed, showing the secret worlds that lie beneath the snow. Back matter includes an author's note that provides more information on the animals in the book and their habitat as well as suggested additional reading. This picture book reveals vividly what can be learned by slowing down, being mindful, and looking beyond oneself. Although many animals seem to disappear during the winter, many of them lead active lives under the snow, as this book clearly reminds readers. 
- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Soltis, Sue. (2011). Nothing like a puffin. Illus. by Bob Kolar. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

Nothing Like a Puffin book cover imageThis bold colorful picture book begins with a hook that draws readers right in: “Look, a puffin! What a marvelous creature, one of a kind and amazing. Indeed, there is nothing like a puffin” (unpaginated). A little girl then compares the puffin to various inanimate objects such as a ladder, a house and a newspaper. These objects are “nothing like a puffin” (unpaginated). But upon further consideration, the girl then realizes that a newspaper actually is like a puffin because both of them are black and white. The story continues as the girl compares blue jeans, goldfish, shovels, snakes and helicopters with the puffin—revealing that they are “nothing like a puffin” (unpaginated). Through the simple text, readers will continue to learn even more about this cold weather bird, including what puffins look like and what they are able to do. In conclusion, the girl compares a puffin with a penguin and finds some similarities and some differences. This wintery tale could be used to teach comparison and how important it is to wait before making assumptions. After all, something that seems on the surface to be nothing whatsoever like a puffin just might have more in common with the creature than it seems upon first glance.
- Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver

Van Dusen, Chris. (2010). Learning to ski with Mr. Magee. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle.

Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee book cover imageOne winter morning Mr. Magee and his little dog Dee wake to fresh snow and a beautiful sky. They decide, “It’s time to give skiing a try!” (unpaginated). They travel to a little hill where they can practice, and later they plan to head for the mountain. Both dog and master think skiing will be easy as they teeter-totter downhill. Completely written in rhyme, this adventure quickly moves from wintery fun to icy conditions. The comic-like, gouache illustrations depict a curious moose in search of succulent sticks. Although the moose notices Mr. Magee barreling down the hill, it stands frozen in fear. As a novice skier, Mr. Magee doesn’t know how to steer so he slides under the moose, flips in the air and is tossed across a snowy ravine. How will Mr. Magee and Dee find their way out of this icy predicament? In the end, Mr. Magee realizes, “I might need a [skiing] lesson or two” (unpaginated). Children will love this playful book celebrating the wonders of winter and the other two titles in the series: Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee (2000) and A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee (2003), both featuring warmer parts of the year.
- Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver

Wilson, Karma. (2011). Mama, why? Illus. by Simon Mendez. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Mama, Why? book cover imageSince they are naturally curious, most young children ask multiple questions throughout the day. In this picture book Polar Cub has many queries for his mama as he gets ready for bed. He wonders why the moon sails high in the arctic sky, why the moon dreams and why the moon tells stories from the stars. Each time Polar Cub asks, “Mama, why?” (unpaginated), Mama answers in a lyrical way, “Moon is friends with the stars that glow, and the stars tell Moon the tales they know” (unpaginated). The mixed media illustrations show a snowy landscape with Mama Bear and Polar Cub snuggled together. Readers will eventually learn that “stars don’t sleep like you or me. Instead they travel the galaxy. They sometimes sprinkle dust as they go—and stardust, my dear, is what we call snow” (unpaginated). This wonderful lullaby will remind parents and teachers that the questions of little ones are important and valuable, and that we must take time to listen and help them find answers to what they want to know, even when the questions are repetitive or hard to answer.
- Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver

Grades 4-5

McDonough, Yona Zeldis. (2011). The cats in the doll shop. Illus. by Heather Maione. New York: Viking.

The Cats in the Doll Shop book cover imageEleven-year-old Anna Breittelmann would love to be an author someday. Certainly, she is clever, creative, and has a big heart. The observant girl follows the misadventures of a pregnant cat she names Ginger Cat and her kitten Plucky and worries about their ability to survive in New York’s chilly winter which is quickly approaching. When she and her two sisters learn that Tania, their Russian cousin, will live with the family while her mother works in Europe during WWI, Anna decides to create a doll just for Tania in order for her to feel at home. Since her father runs a doll shop to repair and make dolls, the materials she needs are readily available. When Tania arrives after her trying ocean voyage, she is understandably introverted and hoards her food. She can barely speak English, and two of the cousins ignore her. Anna, however, recognizes that her cousin has artistic talent and loves animals, and concern for Ginger Cat helps thaw her frozen heart. The descriptions of Tania's painful attempts at communicating while Sophie, the oldest sister, expects her to master English immediately are vivid and heart-rending as is the story surrounding the outdoor cats, Ginger Cat and Plucky. Readers will be horrified at the carelessness and cruelty with which Anna's neighbor treats the felines who are desperately trying to get through a harsh winter. This is a beautifully told story about a girl concerned about others as well as a gentle reminder to share what we have with others, especially during the coldest months of the year. The story and illustrations may be sentimental and evoke another time period, but the sentiments that prompt Anna’s generosity should never go out of style.
- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Ursu, Anne. (2011). Breadcrumbs. Illus. by Erin McGuire. New York: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins.

Breadcrumbs book cover imageThe timelessness of the themes of loyalty and friendship explored in this book make it a treasure. The skill with which the story unfolds and the lovely language used in telling the story will prompt willing rereads. Best friends Hazel and Jack encounter peer pressure from classmates who consider it unlikely for a boy and a girl to be friends instead of going out or going together once they reach a certain age. To Hazel’s dismay, Jack seems to be growing distant, possibly bowing to peer pressure. Still, she loves her friend, and when he goes missing, she sets off into the woods to find him. It seems that Jack has followed the Snow Queen who has frozen his heart and left him almost beyond saving. As Hazel risks everything to rescue her friend, she encounters all sorts of creatures often found in fairy tales, including a woodcutter, the three fate sisters, a flower garden whose blossoms were once girls, a little match girl, a magical object, and roving packs of wolves. If the story is engaging--and it is--the language used throughout the story is evocative and powerful, lending an almost mesmerizing quality to the tale. The author makes readers experience vicariously the exquisite coldness that Hazel endures on her journey as well as the icy indifference that has permeated the heart of the Snow Queen and numbed Jack’s as well. When Jack finally returns home, it's clear that things at home will still be difficult. While his mother remains profoundly depressed, at least one boy has found his way out of the wintery woods, thanks to a loyal and determined friend.
- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Grades 6-8

Duble,  Kathleen Benner. (2011). Phantoms in the snow. New York: Scholastic.

Phantoms in the Snow book cover imageNoah Garrett’s parents have just died of smallpox in 1944 Texas, leaving him an orphan. Noah is sent to live with his closest living relative, an uncle in Colorado that he has never met. When Noah arrives at Camp Hale, he learns that his uncle is in the military in an elite fighting ski patrol unit readying for combat in Europe. Raised a pacifist, Noah finds this to be an especially difficult transition. However, as World War II rages, Noah learns about the necessity for this unique army unit and eventually becomes part of the team of “snow phantoms” who comprise the Tenth Military Mountain Division that are preparing for combat. The author interviewed survivor phantoms for this story, which is based on historical events. Readers may enjoy visiting the author’s website and link to an exciting book trailer at  http://www.kathleenduble.com/
- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Lourie, Peter. (2012). The polar bear scientists. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

The Polar Bear Scientists book cover imageAnother worthy entry in the informative Scientists in the Field series which examines the work of scientists in various locales, the focus in this case happens to be an area that has received quite a lot of attention recently--the plight of polar bears in the Arctic. Once the mother bears emerge from their dens with their cubs in the spring, the United States Geological Survey Team emerges from its home base to locate polar bears by helicopter. After tranquilizing, capturing, and then releasing them once samples have been taken, the scientists use the data they collect as a way to count a population that is hard to count and assess the condition of the bears. Concerned about the effects of global warming and climate change on the bears, the scientists use radio collars to track the movement of the bears. As is the norm in this engaging series, the book's pages are filled with photos of the enormous polar bears and the scientists at work as well as chockfull of details about their painstaking attention to the data they collect. Even a costly lost radio collar can't be left behind, and the scientists must make every effort to find out whether the collar has been removed by a polar bear or if the bear itself has died. The author includes interviews with scientists who remind readers that there is still time to save the polar bear's habitat--if we act quickly and reduce our carbon footprints.
- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Grades 9-12

Hirsch, Jeff. (2011). The eleventh plague. New York: Scholastic.

The Eleventh Plague book cover imageTwenty years have passed since civilization as we know it ended. Prompted by escalating conflicts between the United State and China, the Collapse occurred when a deadly strain of influenza kills much of the population. Cities fell, and the infrastructure that maintained the government has fallen apart as the survivors focus on simply finding food. Stephen Quinn, 15, was born after the Collapse, and the only life he has ever known is that of a salvager, searching for anything to trade for food. When Stephen’s father falls into a coma after an encounter with slavers, he stumbles upon Settler’s Landing, a community that is so self-sustaining they even have a school. Since winter is already chilling his bones, Stephen stays in the area while his father heals in order to read books, his secret passion, and to be with Jenny, a local girl who refuses to settle for the status quo. But even this place is not a sanctuary, and a prank causes more problems than Stephen could ever have imagined. Especially frightening is the realization that when citizens of the town are banished with few supplies, they will have little chance to survive the harsh winter that lies outside its borders.
- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

 


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