a winter’s tale…frosty favorites for all ages

Welcome to January, a month of fresh starts, frosty weather, and candlelight.
Especially this year, it’s a great month to hunker down and protect others by staying cozy at home.
To that end, I’ve got a blizzard of books set in wintery weather.
Fantasies, mysteries, and plenty of true, hair-raising, icy expeditions to thrill ages 5 through adult —
there’s something for everyone today!
I’ll start with five books I’ve recently read, then add some favorite snowy reads from previous posts.

The Clockwork Crow, by Catherine Fisher
first published in the UK; first US edition 2020 by Walker Books
208 pages

Take a pinch of The Secret Garden, stir in a heaping cup of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, add copious snow and a mysterious, mechanical crow and you’ve got the makings for a delicious fantasy steeped in Gothic atmosphere, well-suited to elementary readers.

Orphaned Seren is on the train heading for her new home with godparents she’s never met and their son, Tomos, when an agitated stranger hands her a package, urges her to take precious care of it, and disappears into the night. As if that’s not weird enough, when Seren arrives at the manor, she discovers a nearly-emptied household, sinister-level secrecy, and an eerily-abandoned child’s nursery in the attic. On opening the package, she finds the assorted pieces of a mechanical crow who claims, once she’s reconstructed him, to be an enchanted prince!

As Seren tracks down answers to her mystifying arrangements, she stumbles into a magical realm. It will take all her moxie to rescue Tomos and restore them both to the home and family she craves. This is a fairly quick read and though it has plenty of danger and menacing magical forces, it’s not too dark for younger readers, about ages 8-11. A sneak-peak at the sequel, The Velvet Fox, is included.

Absolutely Truly: A Pumpkin Falls Mystery
, by Heather Vogel Frederick
published in 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
355 pages

Truly Lovejoy, 12 years old, has just moved with her family to Pumpkin Falls, New Hampshire, a small, Stars Hollow-esque town where her family is taking over the bookshop run by her grandparents for many years. The move is precipitated by her military dad’s return from Afghanistan with a traumatic injury, a depressed and angry spirit, and the need for a fresh start.

It’s a tough move for Truly, but things perk up quickly when she discovers a cryptic note tucked inside an old book in the store. Soon, with the help of several new friends, Truly is hot on the trail of a couple different mysteries, even as she waits and hopes for the return of her dad’s old, happier self.

This book has a definite Hallmark-movie quality which is honestly not usually my cup of tea. However, it would have easily won over my girls when they were young with its small town charms, tantalizing clues, and a smidgeon of romance. I’d recommend it for girls especially, ages 9-13. A recipe for Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies is included and there are already several sequels for Pumpkin Falls fans.

The Way Past Winter
, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, illustrations by Lauren O’Hara
originally published in the UK; US edition 2020 by Chronicle Books
275 pages

Mila’s world is shrouded in forest, mystery, and frost. Her mother has died, and ever since her father abruptly left five years ago, eternal winter has descended on her forest home. She and her siblings carry on quite well on their own until one day a strange, frightening man shows up leading a train of young horsemen. There’s something disturbingly eerie about the entire group. Next morning, Mila’s beloved older brother, Oskar, has left with them.

Mila is positive that Oskar did not leave willingly and soon she and her sisters begin a long, treacherous journey to bring him back. It takes tremendous courage, stalwart loyalty, and the assistance of a mage to reach the stronghold of The Bear, a mystical, vengeful forest spirit who has captured these boys and is bent on destroying the lives of all who occupy his land.

This fantasy has the sense of a dark, Nordic fairy tale. It was honestly a bit of a slow start for me and I nearly gave it up, but I became more invested as I kept reading. In the end, it’s a vivid, unusual story painted in snow and ice with warm currents of family love. Don’t be fooled by the charming cover image — danger and darkness lie herein! Ages 10 and up.

The Twistrose Key, by Tone Almhjell, illustrated by Ian Schoenherr
published in 2013 by Dial Books for Young Readers
366 pages

Written by a Norwegian woman and set in a mythical Norwegian locale, this fantasy is jam-packed with imaginative places and characters woven into a high-energy, high-stakes adventure.

11-year-old Lin Rosenquist has recently moved house when a parcel is dropped at her doorstep. Inside is an ornate key which unlocks a gateway leading into the fantastical land of Sylver. It’s a landscape of eternal winter and most surprisingly, its occupants are either once-beloved pets or wild creatures of the woods, all of whom now occupy human-sized bodies, talk, and conduct their affairs much as a civilized society of Narnian animals might. All is not well in Sylver, however. Indeed, the magic of Sylver and its entire wellbeing are threatened. Lin has been magically summoned to defend the realm along with her former pet Rufus, a vole. Their pathway to victory is exceedingly circuitous and filled with unexpectedly dire threats.

Many elements of this story really tickled my fancy. The settings are vividly described with rich, sensory detail, and the author’s imagination sparkles as she creates this brand new world for us. It’s beautifully illustrated and includes some epic maps which helped me a great deal. On the other hand, there are perhaps too many elements and too many stops along the quest, too many plot twists, prophecies, and double-crossings, all of which made me feel at times like I was caught up in an avalanche and could not quite snatch hold of the centering point. There are also some quite dark portions of the struggle which lead me to up the age-level for my recommendation. For fantasy-lovers who can handle some grit and darkness, this is a winning read. I’d suggest ages 10-11 and up. A sequel is out — Thornghost.

Into the Clouds: The Race to Climb the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain, by Tod Olson
published in 2020 by Schoastic
265 pages

Wow. This book, chronicling three of the earliest expeditions up the monster-mountain K2, utterly captivated me. My whole being was on that mountain with these climbers, hearing the shrieking winds, feeling the sting of fiercely-driven snow, struggling to breathe, wrestling with life-and-death decisions being made.

Olson narrates three historic attempts to summit K2 in 1938, 1939, and 1953, the first and last of which were led by Charles Houston, an American mountaineer who adhered to a strict code of “the brotherhood of the rope.” Houston was committed to climbing together, making decisions together, and valuing one another’s well-being over the acclaim of the summit. The middle trek was led by a man with a strikingly different temperament and climbing philosophy. Witnessing these efforts unfold, the agony and suffering, the camaraderie in some cases and dysfunction in others, the triumphs as well as tragic deaths and near-tragedies that occurred, is not only a powerful story of physical stamina and extreme mountaineering, but a profound look at the motivations and values of the human heart. I appreciate that Olson also draws attention to the prejudicial mistreatment of the Sherpa porters who made up a critical component of these climbing teams.

Excellent writing, a riveting story, and lots of food for thought. I highly recommend it for ages 12 through adult.
And here are some frosty favorites from the Marmalade archives.
Click on the link to read my original, full review:

A Toad for Tuesday
64 pages
Warton the toad sets out on skis to deliver some delish Beetle Brittle to Aunt Toolia but is captured by an owl who plans to fatten him up as a treat for his birthday on Tuesday. Can Warton keep his wits and save himself? One of my all-time favorite early chapter books. Ages 5 and up.

Snowshoe Thompson

An easy-reader account about a Norwegian immigrant who became a legendary skiing mailman and general rescuer in the Sierra Nevadas in the early 1850s. Fascinating guy! Ages 6 and up.

Storm Run: The Story of the First Woman to Win the Iditarod Sled Dog Race
An absolutely delightful account of Libby Riddles who ventured off to Alaska as a teen, began raising sled dogs, and went on to compete in and win the grueling Iditarod. A joy to share with ages 6 and up.

The Great Serum Race:Blazing the Iditarod Trail

The story of the heroic sled dog relay race to Nome in 1925 carrying serum to stave off a diphtheria epidemic. A remarkably fitting story for this winter! Excellent writing, great illustrations, a taut and true story for ages 6 and up.

Twelve Kinds of Ice
60 pages
A brief, elegant, confection of a book ambling through a whole season of ice and the immensely joyous outdoor fun to be had on it. A truly lovely book that is not well known, enjoyable for ages 6 through 100.

The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands

A gripping historical fiction account of a Dutch boy charged with guiding his neighbors to safety, skating along canals right past the Nazi soldiers.  A gripping story with lots to learn about Dutch skating culture and the Dutch resistance for ages 7 and up.

Winter Holiday
336 pages
Part of the classic Swallows and Amazons series, this is one of my favorite of the bunch. The Walker and Blackett kids are joined by two more children in the Lake District over the winter holidays where they hatch a plan for an ice sled race to the “North Pole.” Delightful adventures that make a great read-aloud. Ages 7 and up.

Everest: The Remarkable Story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay
64 pages
In 1953 two men finally reached the summit of Mt Everest for the first time. This heavily illustrated account tells their story remarkably well. A super choice for adventurous kids ages 7 and up.

Moominland Midwinter

168 pages
I haven’t reviewed this particular Moomin story but I’ll link to my review of the first volume in the set, Finn Family Moomintroll. These classic stories about the Moomins and their quirky friends and neighbors are an imaginative delight. This one takes place in midwinter when Moomins are supposed to be fast asleep, but Moomintroll wakes up early and goes exploring in the strange world of snow. A great read-aloud for ages 7 and up.

Odd and the Frost Giants
120 pages
A fabulous tale by the one-and-only Neil Gaiman about Odd, a young boy in medieval Norway, and his epic encounter with three Norse gods who have been transformed into forest creatures by evil Frost Giants. A heroic saga, wondrously-told and illustrated, for ages 7 and up.

Shackleton’s Journey

80 pages
Here’s the first of three Shackleton accounts I’ve included because if you’re talking icy adventure, the saga of The Endurance has to be on the list! This NYT Best Illustrated Book is gorgeous, capturing both intriguing particulars and vast spaces, perfect for ages 8 to adult.

Skating Shoes
200 pages
A vintage charmer about 9-year-old Harriet who is taught to skate as a means of convalescing after a lengthy illness and her friendship with Laila, a little girl with a heap of skating talent but a dearth of love. Ages 8 and up.

Snow Treasure
196 pages
Another vintage novel, a favorite of many, about some brave Norwegian children during WWII who ferried a mighty load of gold bricks  by sled, coasting for miles through the snowy woods past unsuspecting German guards. An exciting read-aloud for ages 8 and up.

Over the Top of the World: Explorer Will Steger’s Trek Across the Arctic
The fascinating story of Minnesotan Will Steger’s sled dog expedition to the North Pole in 1995, a strenuous and dangerous journey. This nonfiction account packed with photos can be read in segments with ages 8 and up.

Black Whiteness:Admiral Byrd Alone in the Antarctic
An account of another extreme adventure on the other side of the globe, this is the story of Byrd’s six months living completely alone in an underground house in Antarctica in the name of scientific research, conducted in 1934.  Grueling, gripping, astonishing, it’s accompanied by fantastic illustration work. Ages 9 and up.

Voyage of the Frostheart
440 pages
A rip-roaring fantasy set in a frozen world populated by human-kin, odd creatures, and Aggressive Toothy monsters! Join Ash and his yeti guardian, Tobu, on the Frostheart, an enormous sleigh run by a motley crew of Pathfinders venturing from one weird port to another as they search for Ash’s parents who disappeared many years ago. A sequel, Escape from Aurora, is due out in February. Ages 9 and up.

Astrid the Unstoppable
320 pages
Astrid Glimmerdal, age 9, lives in the mountains of Norway. She’s a small spitfire, known and loved (or tolerated) by most of those in her small community, especially her dear godfather, Gunnvald. When a series of events reveals a long-held secret of Gunnvald’s, some deep wounds bewilder and rattle Astrid’s young heart. Breakneck sledging, sharp-tongued interchanges, endearing relationships, and massive affection, yield an honest, poignant, zesty read for ages 9 and up.

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World
131 pages
Here’s the second Shackleton choice, a spellbinding narrative account. Woven into the saga of these men are interesting mini-forays into subjects such as Antarctic weather systems, habits of leopard seals, navigation techniques, Antarctic exploration, all of which help us better comprehend the obstacles Shackleton and his men faced.  Accompanied by archival photos taken by expeditionary photographer Frank Hurley. Excellent for ages 10 and up.

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey
128 pages
And here’s the third Shackleton option, a graphic novel rendering that’s aesthetically-pleasing, highly-accessible, and exceptionally personal. It’s entirely told through dialogue, allowing personalities, emotion, inside jokes, private conversations, worried mutterings, to be the means by which we experience the voyage. Not as many details are fleshed out here, but it’s still a great approach. Ages 10 and up.

Ski Soldier: A World War II Biography
158 pages
This is the story of Pete Siebert, who grew up racing down the slopes of the White Mountains and later joined the U.S. Army’s Alpine Division during WWII. His early adventures and treacherous military assignments are written up here in free verse making it a quick, engaging, and fascinating read for kids ages 11 and up as well as adult ski enthusiasts and WWII buffs.

The 7 Professors of the Far North

144 pages
11-year-old Sam Carnabie and his new acquaintances Zara and Ben are swept into an extraordinary Arctic, sci-fi adventure on the trail of 7 professors who are suddenly, shockingly kidnapped! The trio have to decipher strange messages and find their way along top-secret routes to the Far North to rescue the scientists. High-octane energy, extreme danger, James-Bond-style vehicles, plus gobs of attempted murder and biological warfare all make this a short-but-dynamite read for ages 12 and up.

Finally, if it’s winter picture books you’re looking for,
you can find a whole drift of snowy choices on my Winter Stories list here.
Happy Reading!
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