snow in the forecast…a flurry of five wintertime tales

big snow cover image jonathan beanBig Snow, written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean

Ever since I heard Jonathan Bean was working on a snow story, I’ve been eagerly anticipating it. That’s fitting, because Anticipation permeates this ah-mazing new book I have fallen in love with.

It’s the story of a little boy longing for snow. And not just a puny few flakes that melt when they hit the ground. We’re talking enough for sledding, at the least. While he waits, his mom attempts to distract him with small jobs around the house, but really — how’s a boy to get snow off the brain?! Everything he big snow illustration jonathan beandoes just morphs into more dreams of snow — literally; his naptime dream of Extreme Snow is a stunner! Happily, his wishes come true as a good, old-fashioned snowstorm dumps a ton o’ snow on the town. Excellent.

There’s a whole lot more to the story than that, though, and it’s all tucked in the perfect illustrations. Jonathan Bean knows his snow. In fact, as soon as the boy asks his mom if she guesses the snow will be “taller than the grass,” I knew we were safe.  This is a question only a true snow guy asks. It shows up, too,  in his masterful illustrations of the townscape which is little by little transformed by snow. Day begins with a chill, slate sky, heavy with the promise of snow. Each change in weather shows up in keen detail — the first sporadic flakes, a muting of distant hills, a sifting of snow on roofs, streetlights illuminating a glitter of flakes. These are not dreamy, sparkly pictures, but grounded, how-it-really-looks pictures. As a snow-lover, I was supremely satisfied with this ode to big-time snow. 

I could go on. There’s a great deal of humor mixed in with the snow-love, and as in each of Jonathan Bean’s books, the powerful warmth of family is woven throughout the story. Do not miss this brand new book! Ages 2-100.

once upon a northern night cover imageOnce Upon a Northern Night, by Jean E. Pendziwol, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Here’s another 2013 book created by two women who know winter intimately and have wondrously captured its icy enchantment. It comes to us from Canada — the author lives just over the Minnesota border in Ontario,  and the illustrator in Montreal. 

Winter is speaking in her quiet, poetic voice to a small, slumbering boy, once upon a northern night illustration isabelle arsenaulttelling him of the beautiful frozen landscape she’s painted outside his window while he cozies inside his cocoon of blankets. Tumbling specks of snow and puffy, snow-laden shrubbery, nighttime creatures stepping, swooping, pausing in the frigid darkness, a pattern of pattering mouseprints on snow, ice crystals  and northern lights, glittering etchings of frost on window panes — all this is gently described in a lovely, free verse poem.

Meanwhile — Isabelle Arsenault. Well! Her evocative, arresting artwork makes us linger over every page of this book. Using pencil, gouache, watercolor and ink, she creates brooding, still darkness; crackling cold; exquisite quietness; intricate patterns of frost and barren branches and snow-topped grasses, always with a sense of peace and comfort. This is truly one of the most beautiful books of the year. Enjoy it with children ages 3 and up, or just get it for yourself.

bunnies on ice cover imageBunnies on Ice, written and illustrated by Johanna Wright

This little bunny love-love-loves to skate! In her vivid imagination, she is, in fact, a champion figure skater. So, she Knows What it Takes to achieve greatness on ice, and here’s the thing:

You have to wait a long time for the conditions to be just right.bunnies on ice illustration johanna wright

All through the spring, summer, and fall, she waits for icy winter to arrive and when it does — hallelujah! — she is ready! A jumbo pancake breakfast and plenty of winter wraps later and she’s spinning, twirling, and double-axeling  her way around the rink. Happily, there are other Necessities for Champion Skaters as well, waiting for her in the snug, family burrow. Yum! Definitely first-rate directions for happy wintering!

A bunny with moxie, exuberant joy over wintery fun, a sheltering, loving family, and plenty of hot chocolate co-star in this delicious, upbeat,  story.  Wright’s illustrations simply glow with warmth.  Her ample bunnies in their jolly clothing, a palette of deep turquoise and apricot, wheaty gold and sugar pink, plus a sprinkling of polka-dot mushrooms, exude charm.  New in 2013, this sent me searching for more of Wright’s work. Ages 2 and up.

the bear's song cover imageThe Bear’s Song, written and illustrated by Benjamin Chaud

This is an import from France, published in 2013 in the U.S.. Its marvelously unique style will pull you magnetically into both forest and urbane, European city, as we pursue a small, lickety-split bear cub.

It’s wintertime. Time to hibernate. And Papa Bear is only too happy to oblige. In a wink, he’s snoring away in his den. However, Little Bear is not the bear's song illustration benjamin chaudhearing “winter’s whisper” because he’s focused on something else — honey. So, off he scoots. Papa Bear wakes up (phew!) and begins a frantic chase through the forest, right into the heart of a bustling, trés chic city. Where can that little bear be? Down the crowded avenues and into the glamorous opera hall he races, where a very surprising turn of events brings about a reunion — and a very tasty one at that!

The story is brief. The main joy lies in trying to spot that little bear while pouring over the action flooding Chaud’s highly-stylized scenes. Streets lined with vehicles that are crammed with all manner of folk; soirees and cafes and sweeping opera balconies swarming with debonair ladies and gentlemen. Great fun, very cool illustrations, and a sweet ending. Ages 4 and up.

grandmother winter cover imageGrandmother Winter, by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Beth Krommes

If you think snowflakes look like downy feathers floating in the air, you’re on to something. It turns out Grandmother Winter has spent the year collecting feathers from her snowy white geese, tucking all that fluff into a puffy quilt, and now that it’s winter, she’s giving that quilt a good shaking. Poof! Snow.

When dear old Winter sends the snow a-swirlin’, birds and bunnies, turtles and mice, big lumbering bears and busy bundled-up children, all have their own ways of staying snug, resting warm.  

This drowsy story is part myth, part nature lore. We visit grandmother winter illustration beth krommesGrandmother Winter, as well as a wide variety of animals,  catching a glimpse of their wintertime habits. Phyllis Root’s prose is beautiful and descriptive, moving as gently as those fluttering feathers from one scene to another. Her sentences are crafted so oodles of interesting information is held in a few words — lovely.

Beth Krommes’ striking illustrations are done with scratchboard and tinted with watercolors. They have the look of woodcuts. Gorgeous lines and patterns, as well as plenty of warm colors mixed in with the icy-blue snowflakes, give the pages a feel of warmth, happiness, and fullness despite wintery landscapes. It’s a beautiful book to share with ages 2 and up, coming from a Minnesotan and a New Hampshire-ite. Let’s hear it for north-country dwellers!