Winter Is Coming by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim LaMarche
A stunningly gorgeous picture book about the changing seasons, this is a perfect way to welcome winter even when you don’t want it to arrive. The book begins on a cold day in September with a girl out in nature watching the animals. She has along her drawing pad and climbs into a tree house to see even better. From that platform, she sees a red fox stealing the last wrinkled fall apple from a low branch. A mother bear and her cub are also in the woods searching for food. As fall progresses, she sees different animals: a family of skunks, rabbits, woodpeckers, a lynx, chipmunks, deer and geese. All are preparing for the approaching winter in their own way. As winter gets closer, the animals stop appearing until the day the snow arrives when the red fox is out to see it too.
Johnston has created a book that truly shows children what it is like to be surrounded by the wonder of nature during one changing season. Her poetry sparks on the page, showing not only the different animals but also explaining what is beautiful and special about each one. Even more mundane animals like the chipmunks get this honor. Young readers will be inspired to get outside and sit still and just watch.
The art from LaMarche is stunning. He takes advantage of the length of the pages and creates wide landscapes that embrace the changing colors of the seasons. They turn from the bright yellows of early fall to the deeper reds and browns and then to the chill grays of winter. He uses light beautifully throughout and various perspectives that all center around one tree and one girl. It is extraordinary.
Perfect pick for just this time of year, get your hands on this beautiful picture book and then be ready for adventures outside, hopefully with your own pen and paper along. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Brimsby’s Hats by Andrew Prahin
Brimsby was a hat maker and he had a quiet life. He had a best friend and they had wonderful conversations together over a marvelous cup of tea. But then his friend decided that he wanted to be a ship captain and left for the sea. Brimsby’s life changed suddenly and he was all alone. He set out on a walk when he was feeling particularly lonely and came upon a tree full of birds trying to remove snow from their nests and keep warm. Brimsby thought they would make marvelous friends, but the birds were too busy working to talk with him. Brimsby headed back home after dark all alone and sat in his dark home and thought. Can a lonely hat maker figure out how to make new friends?
This story has such a complete feel to it. Unlike other stories about friendship that can become trite, this one has nuance and balance. Prahin creates a central character who is believable and understandable. He also builds the book around a universal theme. Then he takes a different approach to the solution of finding new friends that is completely surprising and satisfying.
His art is equally pleasing with its rich colors playing against pastels. There is a lightness to the illustrations and also a great quirky feel to them that matches the story well. He uses perspectives and dark and light to reveal just how lonely Brimsby becomes after his friend leaves.
A thoughtful and creative look at friendship that is entirely exceptional and perfect for a wintry day. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Winter Is for Snow by Robert Neubecker
A brother and sister have very different reactions to the newly fallen snow outside. The boy opens the curtains and quickly announces that “Winter is for snow!” But his younger sister is not convinced. The boy tries and tries to explain how wonderful winter can be, but she remains grumpy. She does get on her coat, books, hat, mittens and more to head outside though, still protesting about how it is too cold outside and she’d rather watch TV. Once the two reach the sledding hill, her resistance is starting to crumble and she puts her tongue out to catch some snowflakes. Back home warm in front of the fire, it is now her turn to talk about how amazing winter and snow are.
Written in clever rhymes, the book also has a wonderful rhythm to it that makes it great fun to read aloud. The entire book is written in the dialogue of the two children as they go back and forth about winter. The little boy has so many examples of why winter is incredible, including ones from the Arctic, sledding and skating, snowmen, and holidays. It is a wonderful, jolly take on winter that we don’t see enough.
Neubecker’s illustrations are simple and large, perfect for sharing with a group. The two children have bright orange hair, and more colors come in when the outdoors is shown. I love that winter outside is more than blues and whites, it is filled with the colors of a community celebrating snow themselves.
This is a great book to share for a non-holiday winter story time with its rhyming text and exuberant love of snow. Appropriate for ages 2-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Dusk by Uri Shulevitz
On a snowy December evening, a boy, his dog, and grandfather talk a walk. They stop to watch the sun sink over the river and then they head into the city. There people are in a great hurry. There are people shopping for gifts for their children, others heading home to feed their cats, and even an alien speaking its own language. As darkness falls, the lights in the city start to turn on. First just a few, then more, and finally the boy and grandfather are downtown near the large shop windows and it is revealed that this is a holiday book with different windows celebrating Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanzaa.
It took until that final reveal to realize that I was reading a holiday book, and that is a wonderful thing. Instead of centering on the holidays, this book is about quiet moments and time spent together just looking at the changing light in the sky and in the city. The text is so simple, then becomes dancing complexity when the people start to talk, then returns to the simplicity again. Readers will be jolted by the change, just as if their own quiet walk at dusk was interrupted.
Shulevitz’s art is so beautiful. He captures the setting sun with colors that will make readers linger alongside the characters in the book. He plays throughout the book with shadows, light and darkness. As the lights come on in the book, the light is warm against the winter darkness and pools in liquid on the ground. In the reveal of the holiday windows, the illustrations become detailed and honeyed. Again, a place to linger and bask in that holiday mood.
A top holiday pick, this book is a lovely companion to Snow and stands on its own too. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Once Upon a Northern Night by Jean E. Pendziwol, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
This glimmering book takes a lingering and loving look at a Canadian winter night. It starts just before the snow begins to fall, one flake then more. Then the ground is covered with a snowy blanket, a blanket just like the one you are sleeping under. The book goes on to talk about the beauty of the winter forest, snow that will dust your head and nose as you pass under the trees. Animals appear; the deer munch on the frozen apples, a great gray owl silently drifts by, rabbits scamper only going still when the fox walks past. The book continues to talk about the beauty of the snow once the sky clears, the patterns of frost on window panes. It ends with the dazzle of the snowy morning.
As a native of Wisconsin, this Canadian import speaks directly to my love of winter evenings, nights and days. This lullaby of a book opens each poetic stanza with “Once upon a northern night…” and then leads into another beautiful wonder that is present there. Northern readers will see their own love reflected here, others will start to understand the beauty and exquisite nature of winter. Pendziwol plays with imagery and truly finds the wonder in each moment she captures. It is pure beauty, glittery as snow but oh so much warmer.
Arsenault’s illustrations are done in nighttime sepia tones, the color drained away except for pops of frozen apples, owl eyes, fox orange and deep night sky blues. The snow itself makes up much of the images, dancing in the air, covering branches, capturing footprints. One can almost feel the coldness seep from the page. Then there is the final page with morning arriving that is suddenly color and ends the book just perfectly with its icy shimmer.
This picture book is perfect for a bedtime story curled up near the fire or under toasty warm blankets as the snow falls. It is a quiet and lovely book, one to treasure and share. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
One Frozen Lake by Deborah Jo Larson, illustrated by Steven Johnson and Lou Fancher
A boy and his grandfather head out on the frozen lake to go fishing. They drill through four inches of ice and set up their canvas ice shack. Inside they open their tackle box and have four watery holes to fish through. Other join them out on the ice and cocoa is shared, but after seven hours they haven’t seen a single fish. They play cards together and wait until night falls then, a fish! A ten incher and a keeper! But the boy has different ideas than a fish dinner. This picture book captures the quiet times spent fishing out on the ice with a loved one. It’s sure to appeal to children who have headed out themselves and waiting those long hours for just one bite.
Larson nicely weaves numbers and counting into her words in this book. One frozen lake, two friends, three bundles of gear, four inches of ice, five hours to wait. Then she starts again from one, building her poetic story upon the foundation of counting. But this is not a counting book, instead it is a celebration of Minnesota winters and family.
The art here is exceptional. The story above the ice is shown in realistic paintings that show with accuracy the relationship between grandfather and grandson. The tones are bright, sun-filled but also cold as a northern winter should be. Below the ice is a completely different world. There the images are done as collages with whimsical old-fashioned touches taken from signs and flyers. The result is a pairing that shows the stark difference between surface and depths.
Growing up on a Wisconsin lake, this picture book brought back many memories of walking the frozen lake and seeing the shanties. It’s sure to do the same for many grandparents and grandchildren. This is definitely a keeper! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
My Father’s Arms Are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde, illustrated by Oyvind Torseter, translated by Kari Dickson
Published on February 5, 2013.
There are some picture books that you read the first few lines and you realize you are somewhere new and unknown. This is that sort of book. It is the story of a young boy who is unable to fall asleep. His father is there, sitting in the living room by the fire. The boy returns to his father and climbs onto his lap. His father talks about cutting down a big spruce together the next day. The boy asks about the red birds that they left bread for. He worries about the fox stealing their bread too. His grandmother told him that the red birds are dead people and then the book turns and is about the loss of his mother and grief. It is handled with such care and delicacy and the young boy is surrounded with such obvious love that it is achingly exquisite.
This book is not really about what I captured in the paragraph above. It is about sorrow and grief, the sort of sorrow that can only be fleetingly captured in a silent flight of birds or a lone fox in the snow. It is about the loss of a mother, but also about the days following when grief is all you can bear and think of. This book reads like a beautiful ache, a heartbeat of grief where life must go on. The writing is expressive and poetic, just like the title.
Torseter’s illustrations are also unusual and amazing. Done in folded paper and collage, they have a 3-dimensional quality to them that invites in shadows. Most of the images are black, white and grey, though the red birds and the orange fox are pops of color. Beautiful and delicate, the slumps of the shoulders of the characters tell of the sad truth before the words do. The winter setting too is cold and a bit wild, reflecting the mood of the story.
Stunning in its writing and illustration, this is a picture book that is noteworthy and memorable. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
The Reader by Amy Hest, illustrated by Lauren Castillo
A young boy walks through the snow with his dog and a suitcase in his hand. He gets his red sled with runners and heads out. They climb a large hill, leaving straight lines in the snow from the sled as the dog bounds ahead. Once at the top, they stop for a snack of toast and warm drinks. Around them the snow continues to fall. Finally, the suitcase is opened. The boy pulls out a book to share with his dog, about friendship. He reads it aloud, the two of them together at the top of a snowy hill. When they are done, they pack everything back up and climb on the sled for the ride back down the hill. Together.
Hest has written a book that is filled with falling snow but also warmed by the friendship of a boy and his dog. Though the title gives a hint at what is in the case, readers will still be surprised to have them read it out in the falling snow. Hest incorporates beautiful little details: the sound of crunching and sipping, the sound of the boy reading at the top of the hill, the hard work of getting up the high hill. These all create a feeling of time, moments that are to be treasured because they are so beautiful.
Castillo’s illustrations are done in pen and ink and watercolor. Against the white of the snow, all of the colors pop. The brown of the dog, the red boots, the smears of color on the suitcase: all are cheery bright against the white countryside. The illustrations have a wonderful jaunty feel to them, celebrating this close friendship and reading books.
A wonderful mix of snow and story, this book is a rich winter delight. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Perfect Day by Carin Berger
Celebrate a wonderful winter day in this picture book! Join the children as they make the first tracks in the snow, glide on skis, and lose their dog in the drifts. There are snowball fights and building snowmen too. Others make a fort in the snow and sled down big hills. There is ice skating, snow angels, and even an icicle stand. This is one gorgeous snowy day.
Told in very simple words, this picture book really shows what makes for an exceptional wintry day. The collage illustrations are really what make the book shine. The snowy hills are textured by the faint lines on pages and by the words that had been written on them. Against this subtle background, the bright-colored and sharp-edged characters pop. The trees too stand dark and strong against the white.
A wonderful winter read, this picture book is a perfect ending to your own snowy day. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Greenwillow Books.
Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Fall was ending and winter was coming, but before he hibernated, Bear had a story to tell. Unfortunately, the other animals were too busy to hear the story. Mouse was gathering seeds and when Bear helped Mouse find lots of seeds, Mouse tunneled underground for the winter. Duck was getting ready to fly south and all Bear had time to do was check the wind direction for him and say he would miss Duck before he flew off. Frog too was looking for a warm place to sleep. Bear helped dig a hole for him to sleep in. Mole was already way underground and asleep. So Bear too headed off to sleep. When spring came, Bear still had a story to share. Soon his friends were gathered around him to listen, and you will have to read the book to find out what story he shared!
The husband/wife team behind the Caldecott winning A Sick Day for Amos McGee have returned with a book that has a quiet, contemplative beauty that is haunting. It’s one of those picture books that can be read as a quick bedtime story, but has so much more depth than that. Bear’s rather lonely start to his hibernation also has a series of close connections to friends. His spring wake up is filled with a warmth that echoes the seasonal change.
The writing is gentle and filled with small details that really show the slowing nature of the start of winter. There is time to count the clouds and look at the color of the leaves, at least for Bear. The connections between Bear and his many friends are also written with a richness that adds much to the story. The circular nature of the ending is also an invitation to start the book all over again. One that readers will be happy to accept.
Erin Stead’s illustrations have a beautiful delicacy to them. The rounded shoulders of the very furry Bear show a patience and yet a weight too. There are moments of celebration, when Bear is rolling in the newly lush grass that are filled with cheer. It is especially remarkable near the lonely and poignant image of Bear alone as the first snow begins to fall. Lovely.
It’s the perfect time of year to read this book, ease yourself into the winter months and quietly wish autumn farewell. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.