a list of…five frosty tales singing of snow!

Red Sled, by Lita Judge

In the blue, starlit coldness, one cozy cabin glows golden light through its snow-trimmed window.  A jolly red sled leans up against the log wall, resting after a day of coasting.

Then, tiptoe-tiptoe-tiptoe…off goes the sled, tucked under the woolsy arm of a smiling brown bear.  Soon, bear and his forest friends are careening down the slopes on that bright red sled.  Slooping, whooping, dipsy-doodling, plunging into snow drifts.  So much fun!  As the sky lightens, bear responsibly returns the sled.

But, the little red-capped girl who owns it  notices those giant bear tracks the next day.  So, she spies.  And when bear returns for more red-sled-mayhem, guess who’s ready to join them!

This is a nearly wordless book.  The text consists of onomatopoeia sounds expressing the joy and exhilaration of a walloping good sledding run!  Pair that subdued word count with phenomenal illustrations and you have a double-dip of picture book goodness!  Smudgy gray pencil lines outline minimalist hills and trees, creating a soft, wintry landscape.  Bold, close perspectives in gorgeous colors bring us nose to nose with frolicking animals, a honey-brown bear, and of course, that cranberry-red sled.  I love this book, new in 2011.

Houndsley and Catina and the Quiet Time, by James Howe, illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay

Houndsley is a comfy, easy-going fellow.  Catina is dainty and chic, a bit more prone to fretting.  The two of them have been practicing, cello and clarinet respectively, for a winter concert, but as the day begins, so does the snow.

It’s the first snow of the winter, and it’s a doozy.  Fluffy white flakes mound into drifts, sift onto window ledges, settle on trees.  Houndsley enjoys this quiet time, when the snow makes its own music of silence and everything comes to a stand still.  Catina frets.  How will she get home to curl her whiskers and change into her new concert dress?  Worse yet, what if the concert can’t go on?!

Houndsley wisely advises Catina to enjoy what the snow has brought — a chance to tuck in to homey pastimes.  Poetry writing.  Board games.  Cozy fires.  Snowman building.  And, after all, when twilight settles, the musicians gather in a twinkling park gazebo and play beautiful music to match the snow-muffled neighborhood.

This charming story, with its clear adulation for the beauty of snow and the pleasure of quiet days, is a long-ish easy reader.  Along with Houndsley’s sage advice, there is a nice dash of dry humor, and gallons of friendly affection. Gay’s endearing,  loose watercolors capture the white thrill of snowstorms, the orangey warmth of fireside, and the merry colors of  mittens and music.  Lovely.

Ollie’s Ski Trip, written and illustrated by Elsa Beskow

Little, Swedish, Ollie receives a handsome pair of skis for his sixth birthday.  Always before, his skis have only been cobbled together from bits of plank, so these proper skis are simply begging to be put to use.  However, this year, winter stubbornly refuses to cooperate!  Ollie anxiously waits and waits for the ground to turn white with snow.

Finally, it comes!  Two whole days and nights of powdery, white, goodness!  Ollie gulps down his porridge, straps on his skis, stuffs a sandwich in each jacket pocket, and shooshes off into the forest for a day of gorgeous winter adventure.  And my gracious, what an adventure!

Before day is done, Ollie has met Jack Frost, clothed in glittering splendor, helped shoo away miserable Mrs. Thaw, journeyed to King Winter’s magnificent snow castle, watched the King’s elves crafting toboggans, joined in a marvelous snowball fight…oh my!

Elsa Beskow (1874-1953) is the darling of Swedish children’s literature.  Her books, so full of magical delights and out-of-doors enchantment, are available in many languages, for good reason.  The stories are perfectly tuned to a child’s imaginative point of view.  Her artwork is perhaps even more appealing.  Pure, clear watercolors of northern landscapes, peopled by bearded men in long, white, fur-trimmed coats, darling little  boys and girls in Sami-style clothing, and Ollie sporting his cherry-red woolen hat.  I bought a copy of this when I visited Sweden about 30 years ago, and have collected a couple copies in English for my children.  It’s one of our favorites.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost, illustrated by Susan Jeffers

“Whose woods these are I think I know.  His house is in the village, though;”  Robert Frost’s masterful poem with its slow, peaceful cadence echoing the heavy snow,  the plodding horse, the steady, frosty breaths of an unhurried man, is a lovely piece to share with children.

Susan Jeffers has illustrated it beautifully in this book, tracing the course of a man bundled into his sleigh, red plaid jacket like a cardinal amid the frosty, still countryside around him.   Graphite drawings of soft, bare branches etch the overcast skies; pine forests are muted by snowy air; filigree snowflakes, and swirling millions of flakes flood the pages; subtly-tinted or wintry-white forest creatures fill the scenes — many are hidden so cleverly, you have to look long to find them.

Jeffers’ illustrations partner with the tone of the poem beautifully and her interpretation makes the poem’s storyline come alive.  This is a superb way of sharing this poem with young children.

Snow, written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz

The tired, gray city stands, bleakly, against the low, gray sky, when, lo!  One snowflake appears.  A tiny, white, speck, drifting lazily down.  For one optimistic, snow-loving boy and his faithful dog, that one snowflake is enough!  “It’s snowing,” he declares.  Hopes for a hefty snowfall are firmly lodged in his heart.

It’s a good thing his hope is stalwart, too, because no one else shares his opinion.  Grandfather, sophisticated gentleman, snooty woman, radio and television prognosticators — everybody assures him that there will definitely not be snow.  But guess what!  Snowflakes don’t watch television!

Wonderfully, incessantly, the snow does fall, blanketing the dreary city in a robe of exquisite white, filling the air with wild polka dots of snow, sculpting the cityscape into a powdered sugar confection.  And…the boy and his dog aren’t the only ones celebrating!  You’ll be surprised to find out who joins him!

Uri Shulevitz won a Caldecott Honor for this eye-pleasing, minimally-worded story in 1999.  Those of us who hope against hope every time we see a flake in the air find it particularly satisfying!

Here are Amazon links for all these snowy treasures:

Red Sled

Houndsley and Catina and the Quiet Time

Ollie’s Ski Trip (v. 1)

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Snow (Sunburst Books)