5 Picture Books to Brighten Your Winter Days

Dumping more than a foot of snow in a 12-hour period, the blizzard Minnesotans endured a few days ago went into the books as the biggest snowstorm in seven years. Travel was nearly halted and schools closed early, but lots of folks rejoiced heartily as they shoveled. Snow!

Minnesotans seem to find plenty of ways to take advantage of the snow and ice. Downhill skiing, ice skating, ice fishing, sledding, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing all help fill our long winters with merriment and outdoor exercise.

As amusing as those activities are, though, my favorite winter pastime is admiring the bright snow outside while reading aloud indoors. Ideally, I am reading beside a crackling fire, snuggled under a cozy blanket, and within arm’s reach of a steamy cup of hot tea. Or hot chocolate. That’s because admiring the magically snowy landscapes in beautifully illustrated picture books helps me keep my eyes open to the wonder of God’s wintry creation in real life. It feeds my imagination. And it helps me resist the temptation to grumble about my nose and toes being cold or about how quickly the mudroom fills up with snow boot tracks and soggy mittens.

Well, sometimes it helps.

A few years ago I put together this list of 10 Books for Winter Read-Alouds, and now I have some new picture books to recommend. So whether you are fighting the winter blues or just feeling annoyed with the zipper that keeps getting stuck on your 4-year-old’s coat, here are five picture books about winter that may cheer you up a bit.

Waiting for Winter by Sebastian Meschenmoser is truly laugh-out-loud funny. The illustrations are clever and induce lots of giggles, and the concise text relays the story about a squirrel, a hedgehog and a bear eagerly awaiting winter’s arrival. Meschenmoser’s book Mr. Squirrel and the Moon is also quite humorous, and I am looking forward to reading It’s Springtime, Mr. Squirrel, which comes out next month. Also, I am mesmerized by the enchanting watercolor and oil painting illustrations Meschenmoser created for the recently published version of Kenneth Grahame’s classic The Wind in the Willows.

In First Snow by Bomi Park, striking black and white illustrations — with just the right amount of bold red splashed in for a dramatic effect — capture the colorlessness of winter so creatively. The result is magical, and the story itself is sweet. Featuring very simple text, this is an ideal book for some beginning readers to try reading aloud to mom or dad.

Kate Messner’s Over and Under the Snow offers a fascinating nature study about the “secret kingdom under the snow” while intertwining the story of a father-daughter cross-country ski adventure. The author keeps the story rather brief as she alternates between what is happening over the snow and what is going on under the snow. The nature and animal illustrations are done well, but the somewhat flat illustrations of the father and daughter left me slightly disappointed in the artwork.

Similar to First Snow, the illustrations in The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi masterfully use splashes of red and yellow to brighten the primarily black and white artwork in this imaginative tale.  The story captured my affection with the woodland creatures serving tea, and the beginning reminds me of another favorite: Brave Irene by William Steig, which I reviewed in my original list of winter picture books.    

How delightful to read (or sing!) Walking in a Winter Wonderland in a book with such charming illustrations by Tim Hopgood. Don’t worry; the text of this giant picture book stays true to the lyrics of the classic song we all know as sung by Peggy Lee and composed by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith. Even if your littlest listeners don’t yet know the song, this is a fantastic way to introduce it. And when winter is over, don’t miss Hopgood’s other equally delightful works: Singing in the Rain and What a Wonderful World.

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April Snowflakes

One way to cope with April snowflakes is poetry. So here’s a little poem I wrote a few years ago for “Poetry Day” in our homeschool.

Winter’s Last Kiss

Winter came back for a kiss good-bye,
Tossing snowflakes in the April sky.
‘Oh my, oh my!’ little children cry!
‘No, not again,’ frowning grown-ups sigh.

But the joyful birds – steadfast to sing,
Tweet, chirp and trill – such sweet songs they bring.
Robin, finch, and blackbird with red wing,
Add voice to the glad chorus of spring.

Let’s send off showers of April snow,
Thankful for a cup of hot cocoa.
Farewell, winter! Far away you go!
Green grass, green leaves – come and grow, grow, grow!

Because His Love is Better

“He gives snow like wool; He scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down His crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before His cold?” —Psalm 147:16-17

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Some days the complaints about winter weather pile up faster than snowflakes around here. Grumbling comes easy when the outside air hurts my face and my hands are dry, cracked and bleeding. Weariness and discontentment can deepen as I clear the driveway and sidewalk.

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But someone has kindly pointed me to Psalm 63. And the words in verse 3? They melt me.

“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.”

Can my dry, chapped lips glorify God while they grumble and complain about the cold and snow He sends?

Can my heart truly believe that His steadfast love is better than life? Why does my heart doubt His goodness in sending the weather?

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“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.”

I put on these words and wear them close, like a layer of Under Armor insulating my prone-to-wander heart.

Then I take a walk in the fresh snow.

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I stop now and then to take a picture. Fresh air and photography help me re-focus my heart and be more watchful of His goodness, His grace, His love. Each beautiful flake of snow is worthy of pondering closely.

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“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

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God is always good and His steadfast love endures, even the thermometer reads -31 degrees F like that Sunday morning back in December.  And even when it’s -31 degrees, I can still be thankful and trust the One who sends that cold. Because the One who sends the cold, He is the One who provides what I need to keep warm. Warm socks, hot tea, fire in the fireplace. He provides. And His love never fails.

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“For to the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, His mighty downpour.” Job 37:6

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“By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast.” Job 37:10

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Another day I walk across the lake. And walking on water, albeit frozen, tests my faith. I’m inclined to question every step, but God reminds me to trust Him.

“Let me hear in the morning of Your steadfast love, for in You I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to You I lift up my soul.” Psalm 143:8

Trust builds with each thank-You prayer. So I thank Him for the sunshine and fresh air. I thank Him for a quiet morning. I thank Him for guiding me step by step.

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In the marsh, the cattails capture a soft, shiny glow in their fluff.

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And there on the frozen lake the light catches on the flakes, and the snow sparkles — as if someone has scattered little diamonds across it, shiny little treasures waiting to be found.

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“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.” Psalm 63:3

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The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway

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Minnesota – we love it here! Or least we have a mug with that motto and try to have that attitude. Sometimes attitude is what fuels our fortitude to make it through January.

So yesterday we embraced the frozen tundra and wrapped up January with a fun trip to the local ice castle. Yes, Elsa, Anna and Olaf were all there. And yes, all the ice was real.

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It was 27 degrees outside, and I joined Olaf in daydreaming about summer.

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Despite the warnings I’ve read in The Snow Queen and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I let my darling children ride off in a sleigh with a complete stranger. This ended much better than it sounds, probably because no one offered them Turkish Delight.

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The ice slide was a little slow, but fun.

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Next, we took a quick break to go ice skating nearby and grab some hot chocolate and snowflake sugar cookies.

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At dark we returned to the ice castle to see the lights.

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With lots of twirling torches and fiery stunts, the fire show was captivating, too.

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Happy February from Minnesota!

10 Books for Winter Read-Alouds

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“Of all the forms of water, the tiny six-pointed crystals of ice called snow, that form in such quantities within the clouds during storms, are incomparably the most beautiful and varied.” -W.A. Bentley

I love snowflakes, and every January I tend to go a little snowflake-flakey around our schoolroom. As the Christmas decorations come down, up go the snowflakes! And as I stash away our collection of Christmas books, out come the snow-themed picture books! Here are 10 of our favorites in no particular order.

1. Snowflake Bentley tells the true story of another snowflake lover, W.A. Bentley, who mastered the art of photographing these “exquisite bits of nature.” This book by Jacqueline Briggs Martin is a Caldecott Medal winner published in 1998. If you like it, check out W.A. Bentley’s own book of his micro-photography masterpieces: Snowflakes in Photographs, first published in 1931 by the American Meteorological Society.

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2. White Snow Bright Snow starts with a lovely poem and then tells a quaint tale about a snowstorm blanketing a friendly little town. The characters — a farmer, a postman, a policeman, and rabbits — are endearing. Written by Alvin Tresselt, this is a Caldecott Medal winner that was first published in 1947.

3. The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader features several woodland creatures preparing for snow and lean winter months. Published in 1949, it also was awarded the Caldecott Medal.

4. A delightful little boy is the main character enthralled with the snow in The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. I love that he puts a snowball in his coat pocket to keep for tomorrow and then goes inside his warm house. Another Caldecott Medal winner, this classic book was published in 1962.

5. Brave Irene is a memorable story of a little girl who loves and obeys her mother and perseveres through a trial involving wind and snow. Written by William Steig and published in 1986, this book received the honor of being a “New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year.”

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6. In Owl Moon a little girl and her Pa tromp through the snowy, moon-lit woods in search of a great horned owl. This book was written by Jane Yolen and beautifully illustrated by John Schoenherr; it was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1987.

7. Combining Robert Frost’s classic poem with downright gorgeous illustrations of wintry woods makes the book Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening a must-see. The illustrations are by Susan Jeffers, and the book was first published in 1978.

8. The Tiny Snowflake is a sweet little board book about a swirling snowflake named Lacy who is searching for her special place in God’s creation. Published in 2003, this book was written by Art Ginolfi and illustrated with delightful pictures by Louise Reinoehl Max.

9. Twelve Kinds of Ice is a long picture book with simple but captivating illustrations by artist Barbara McClintock. This charming story about a family’s ice skating rink is written by Ellen Bryan Obed. It was published in 2012 and was a much-loved gift for my 9-year-old this Christmas.

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10. Magnificently illustrated and filled with clever poems about the cold, Winter Bees by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen is another new favorite in our family. “Big Brown Moose” and “Snowflake Wakes” are my top two favorites. Nature-lovers will appreciate the sidebars featuring details about how the animals in each poem cope with winter weather. Also, the glossary of scientific terms in the back is much appreciated by this homeschool mom. The book was just released in 2014 and makes a great gift for nearly all ages.

Happy reading!

 

 

 

Snowshoes for Christmas

A white Christmas is always lovely. But this year a white Christmas seemed ever more desirable because we were giving the girls snowshoes as a main gift.

It turned out that we had a white Thanksgiving and a brown Christmas. November and December traded places. We did have big snowflakes falling down on Christmas day, but somehow those didn’t stick. It’s Murphy’s Law — if Minnesotans give their children snowshoes for Christmas, there will be no snow.

Much to our delight, in the evening the day after Christmas, the backordered snow arrived. It fell thick through the windy night, and by morning we had 5 or 6 inches.

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Southern girl that I am, I had no idea if 5 or 6 inches is enough snow to snowshoe in. But a few friends I consulted thought it was, so the girls and I bundled up and headed to the backyard with our brand-new snowshoes. Yes, I received a pair, too!

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Snowshoes attach to your snow boots, and I think I got mine on right.

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As a test, the girls trekked around the backyard for a bit.

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Then we headed out onto the frozen lake, feeling very adventurous.

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I can’t decide if snowshoes make me feel more like a mountaineer or more like Big Foot. But I do like them.

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We left a few tracks on the frozen lake. We didn’t make it all the way across yet since it was 11 degrees and getting dark.

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We’re looking forward to another snowshoeing adventure soon!

Fall Didn’t Even Wave Good-bye…

snowday003xI mentioned earlier this week that winter has made a premature arrival here in Minnesota. Just as we finished hauling off bags of leaves and dilapidated jack-o-lanterns and were only beginning to crave a turkey dinner, our scarecrow turned into a snowman. Just. Like. That.

Today I looked out the window to see a strange stillness and an all-too-familiar whiteness settling upon the lake. I grabbed the binoculars and searched for the slightest wave.

Nothing. Autumn had up and left without a farewell or even the slightest wave good-bye.

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In disbelief, the girls and I hiked down to the dock. We gathered a few big sticks along the way to help us get an almost first-hand feel of this strangeness.

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It took some significant poking for the sticks to break through the layer of ice, which was lightly dusted with snow.

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These two are looking forward to ice skating soon — but not too soon.

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Stay warm, Minnesota, and happy Nov-winter?!