In the meantime, here are some books to help make this long, dreadful winter more pleasant. (Randomly, I just realized that I can't read winter books in summer because they give me anxiety just remembering that winter will someday return, but I also can't read summer books in winter because they make me bitter and resentful that it's not currently 80 degrees outside.)
Now, onto the books:
1. Snow, Cynthia Rylant, illus. Lauren Stringer
Sometimes when I wake up in the morning and find the world blanketed in white, I wish for a way to perfectly describe the beauty around me. (Because, in spite of how difficult it makes my life, even I can't deny that there are times when it is absolutely breathtaking.) But when I try to write about it, I can't think of what to say that could possibly help me remember what it looks like and what it feels like.
But somehow, Cynthia Rylant found the right words.
Snow is basically description after description of different kinds of snow. There's the "snow that comes softly in the night, like a shy friend afraid to knock" and the snow that falls "in fat, cheerful flakes while you are somewhere you'd rather not be." If you live in a snowy place, then you know exactly what she's talking about. But if you live in a warm place and wish you knew what snow was like, then read this book, and you'll know. My favorite line is: "The snow loves them back. It gives them angels and new friends," and the accompanying picture is of children playing and making snowmen and snow angels.
The illustrations are a perfect complement to the text: they capture the cold nip in the air and the feathery, wet feeling of snowflakes, and the warm comfort of going inside. There's one picture that I especially love where the snow has a pinkish hue cast over it at the end of the day.
This book reminds me that even with all the hassle and frustration and misery that snow brings, it is still, and always will be, magical.
This is a silly one, no question. But for all its silliness, it also has a certain amount of charm and surprise that instantly delighted all of us.
Milly Moo (a cow) dislikes the heat. In fact, she is so bothered by it that she can't seem to produce any milk. The other cows don't understand it. They claim that the sun helps them make milk and think it should be the same for Milly Moo. The farmer, being not too sympathetic to her discomfort, tells her that he can't keep her if she won't make milk. Fortunately for Milly Moo, the night before her last chance, a storm hits and the temperature plunges. Suddenly Milly Moo feels quite comfortable, and when the farmer goes to milk her, she doesn't just produce cold milk but something much, much better.
The surprise ending is probably the best part of this story, but I also appreciated that it addressed some important issues, such as including those who feel left out or are different. And also recognizing that everyone contributes in different ways (Milly Moo couldn't make milk when it was hot, but the other cows couldn't make it when it was cold--all of the cows were important for different reasons).
The illustrations are simple and have a two-dimensional appearance. (The sun is just a big spiral in the sky; the grass is just little staggered lines.) They contribute to the general quirkiness and silliness of the book.
I know I need to be a little more sympathetic to the people in my life who, like Milly Moo, actually prefer the cold and snow of winter to the dry heat of summer. (I'm especially thinking of my brother, Blaine, who feels the same anxiety with the approaching summer that I feel with the approaching winter.)
3. A Perfect Day, Carin Berger
This is another book that paints snow in the best and most magical of lights. (Believe it or not, there are other less enchanting snow books out there, but I tend to need a reminder of why snow is a good thing.)
The reader follows a group of children (Emma and Leo and Otto and Willa and a whole bunch more) through the events and activities of a perfect snow day. There's the joy of making the very first tracks in the untouched white and making a snowman and a snow fort and sledding down a long hill. At the end of the day, they all go home to "warm hugs and dry clothes and steaming hot chocolate." Perfect.
The text is very simple and direct--not more than a line or two per page--but it uses those few words to tell a beautiful story. One of the things I loved is that all of the children had names. Even though we didn't get to know any of the children very intimately, just the fact that they have names made it seem like we were peeking in on an actual village and not just some random place of the author's imagination. Besides just a description of winter, it was a story, too.
The illustrations are totally unique. They are collages made from all sorts of random paper: catalogs, letters, receipts, etc. The hills of snow are really interesting to look at because if you look closely, you can actually read the random text on the paper the hills were created from. Sometimes I have a difficult time understanding or appreciating this more abstract style of art, but this one was very accessible to a non-artist like me.
4. All You Need For a Snowman, Alice Schertle, illus. Barbara Lavallee
Unlike Snow and A Perfect Day, which talked about all of the fun things you can do in the snow, All You Need For a Snowman focuses on just one: the classic snowman.
"One small snowflake fluttering down--that's all you need for a snowman. EXCEPT..." And with that opening line, the book launches into all the time, physical exertion, and accessories needed to make a really perfect snowman. And what if you have leftover snow? Even better. Then you can make a friend, too.
Aaron and Maxwell really liked this one. Even though we have a LOT of snow, they aren't really big enough to play in it by themselves (especially since it's so deep, it's past their waists). When Mike's home to play with them, he usually takes them sledding, so they haven't even built a snowman this year. But this book made them want to build one, and I think they will in the near future.
And while I usually try to make some comment on the illustrations, in this case, I have nothing to say except that they do their job.
5. White Snow, Bright Snow, Alvin Tresselt, illus. Roger Duvoisin
I think what I like best about this book is the overall structure. In the first four pages, you read about a postman, a farmer, a policeman, the policeman's wife, some rabbits, and some children. They are all noticing, in their own way, that it seems like it might snow. Then the snow begins to fall, and you go back to the postman, the farmer, the policeman, etc. and see what they all do with the falling snow. By the end of the book, you know that if you are reading about the postman, you will eventually finish the cycle with the children.
This book won the Caldecott Medal in 1948, and I love everything about the illustrations except that the faces of the people are a little too orange for me. Maybe that's because the color palette used is fairly limited (yellow, gray, white, orangish pink), but I would have preferred a more familiar skin tone. One of the things I really liked is that throughout the book, a lot of gray is used, which kind of makes the cold and snow feel a little more dreary, but then, immediately following the page describing the snow on everything is a two-page spread where everything looks clean and white. I thought this was a really nice contrast to the gray of the previous pages.
But my favorite part of the book? It ends with the coming of spring.