Winter Words


Story by Krista Threefoot

November/December 2017

Across cultures and religions, winter is a time for celebrating traditions. It’s a season that creates memories with deep roots, magical memories you want to recreate for your own children. Like wearing pajamas inside out to charm the snow out of the sky, or making marshmallow soup in a steaming mug of hot chocolate, or nestling into the perfect spot on the sofa with a beloved book and a child under each arm.

This last tradition is my most treasured. I love the magic of any good book, but for me picture books—especially those with winter themes—possess a special kind of magic. Through prose and images, we experience the shared emotions that stay within us throughout our lives. The beauty and simplicity of a good picture book allows us parents to connect our childhood selves to the children we now have.

Take Ezra Jack Keats’ “The Snowy Day,” a classic that has charmed families, my own included, for decades. It’s a quiet story about a little boy who wakes up one morning to a city transformed by overnight snow. As he wanders through his neighborhood, he discovers a new world, where mountains grow on the streets and his footprints tell the story of his adventures. Exploring a familiar landscape whose contours have been altered by a thick blanket of white snow is something I delighted in sharing with my daughters.

Andrea Davis Pinkney’s “A Poem for Peter,” is a new family favorite. In a beautifully poetic voice, it tells the story behind the story of “The Snowy Day” and how its main character, Peter, became one of the first African American focal characters in a mainstream picture book. It’s a biography, but also a love poem for the enchantment of a snowy day:

“Snow made opportunity and equality seem right around the corner. Because, you see, Snow is nature’s we-all blanket.
When Snow spreads her sheet, we all glisten. When Snow paints the streets, we all see her beauty.”
“Snowmen at Night” is a more recent classic, which became part of my winter book collection when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten. The premise of this story is a question: What exactly do snowmen get up to at nighttime?

“One wintry day I made a snowman, very round and tall. The next day when I saw him, he was not the same at all!
His hat had slipped, his arms drooped down, he really looked a fright! It made me start to wonder: What do snowmen do at night?”

The answer is an imaginative journey replete with snowman shenanigans. My favorite part about this book is that it allows our family to explore the question together—maybe snowmen fly to Egypt at night or to the moon? Maybe they play Go Fish or poker? Roast marshmallows by a campfire?

And then there is Jane Yolen’s “Owl Moon,” which is my all-time favorite winter picture book.

It tells the unique story of a young girl’s first experience of a cherished family tradition: searching for owls under a full winter moon.

The writing and illustrations are gor¬geous, but I think the best part of this book is the quiet, wordless bond between a girl and her father:
“When you go owling, you don’t need words or warm or anything but hope. That’s what Pa says. The kind of hope that flies on silent wings under a shining Owl Moon.”

All these books, along with many more winter holiday classics, can be found in the Howard County Library System. With the days growing colder and shorter, winter is the perfect time to begin your own family reading tradition. We all know it’s good for kids when their parents read to them, but it’s also good for us as parents. Reading together gives us a chance to enter our children’s’ worlds, where life and its stories are still new.*

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