I have a mixed reaction to it: I love that first snowfall of the winter, when the browning grass and stripped trees are dusted with brilliant white and the world looks new and bright and magical. But snow also means the start of the long, dark winter months. Cold seems to seep into my bones, and settles there until those first crocuses gently announce the coming of Spring.
Snow also has significant memories associated with it for me as a third culture kid…
It was my first Christmas away from my family. That year, a trip to France for Christmas was just not in the budget. I was walking back to my apartment just outside Chicago after some last minute Christmas shopping. My roommate, Betsy, and I were planning a small gathering with some International students who also were away from their families that Christmas Eve. As I walked, my thoughts turned to home. There would be plates of cookies and tea, always hot tea. There would be the opening of our ‘family presents’: an assortment of boxes of fine chocolates from members of the church my father pastored, a puzzle, and a board game. There would be a gathering around the card table, putting together the outline of this year’s Christmas puzzle project. There would be games, laughter, and above all, a sense of belonging. A knot formed in my chest and tears rolled down my cheeks. It was snowing in Oak Park that year, those large flakes settling noiselessly on the ground, forming a carpet under my feet. As melancholy emotions washed over me, I hunched down to fend against the cold and padded along, dragging my heels, reluctant to go up to the apartment to face our visitors. As I cried out to God in my moment of pain and loneliness, God answered. Throughout my life, when I have been asked if I have ever felt the presence of God, my answer is always yes, yes, and yes. On that snowy, cold night, God came down. Like a warm blanket, God enveloped me in His love, like I’ve never felt before or since. On that first Christmas without my family, God reminded me that He is Emmanuel, God with me.
I write this as an encouragement and reminder to you, parents of third culture kids, that God holds your children in His hands, and in those difficult moments of loss or pain that is part of the life of your child, God will be there. 2000 years ago, He came ‘down’, became flesh and dwelled for a time among our ancestors, full of grace and truth. Today, he calls those who believe His children and dwells among us, bringing us comfort, joy and hope when we call out to Him, no matter where we are.
Yes. Snow brings beauty and memories to treasure. Snow, with all its richness and associated childhood memories, is also captured so well in children’s literature.
I would love to write about my favorite Christmas books at this time of the year, but I realize that this post comes too late for you to be able to order such books. So instead, this year as winter settles here in southern Indiana, I thought it would be fun to share about a few of my favorite books about snow. I promise that next year I will write in July about Christmas books, so you will have time to get books for the Christmas season.
I know that not all of you live in places where snow or winter is part of your experience. Growing up in the Paris area, I never experienced the heavy snow that falls on parts of North America. Although we did have snow, it did not accumulate and often melted away or turned to slush before we could enjoy it much. But wherever you are, these are a few books that will capture the wonder of it for your child. Enjoy!
1. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats: a 1963 Caldecott Medal book that has withstood the test of time. This classic book is a preschool favorite and should be in every home library. In this book, a boy named Peter sets out, in his bright red snow suit, to experience the wonders of snow. The main character is African-American, breaking the color barrier in children’s literature in 1962, and the setting is the inner city, but the ageless illustrations and text have enthralled young readers of all ethnicities and home settings for generations.
2. Brave Irene by William Steig: I love, love, love this book! (As I do many of William Steig’s books.) In this story, Irene volunteers to deliver a beautiful ball gown that her mom, a dressmaker, has made for the duchess. Her mom is ill and she must deliver the gown that evening. It’s snowing out. Irene bundles up and heads out, carrying the dress in a box that is as big as her. It turns out to be no ordinary snow, but an all-out blizzard! Fearless and determined, Irene trudges on. Will she get there on time? Other great books by Steig include Silvester and the Magic Pebble, Dr. DeSoto, and Amos and Boris.
3. Snow by Uri Shulevitz: a Caldecott honor book and I can see why. In this picture book, Shulevitz captures a child’s sense of anticipation when those first few flakes begin to fall, in contrast to a world of skeptical and preoccupied adults. Simple, poetic words are enhanced by beautiful watercolors, as the world turns from grey to white, from drab to magical. Also by this author, don’t miss The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship and The Treasure.
4. The Snow Lady by Shirley Hughes: OK, I love Shirley Hughes, too, so I have to include her book here. (My all-time favorite picture book is Hughes’ Dogger.) She is a British author/illustrator. While we were living in St Andrews, Scotland, my husband, our then two preschoolers, and I fell in love with her books. In The Snow Lady, two children build a snow lady to represent their next door neighbor, Mrs Dean, whom they call “Mrs. Mean”. But when Mrs. Dean unexpectedly returns home early from a trip, the boy Sam learns about making assumptions about others.
5. One Snowy Night by Nick Butterworth. In this story, Percy, the Park Keeper, hurries home on a cold winter’s night, makes hot cocoa and prepares himself for bed. Then he hears a knock at the door….It is a cold and miserable squirrel! One by one, the park animals (all too cute to describe here) show up at his door and he finds them all a cosy place to sleep in this little house. This book will be asked for over and over again. If your child likes this, be sure to check out Nick Butterworth’s other stories of Percy and his animal friends.
6. The Mitten by Jan Brett. This is Jan Brett’s retelling of a traditional Ukrainian folktale. With her unique drawing style, which includes elaborate colorful borders and vibrant colors, Brett tells the story of a young boy who loses his mitten in the snow. Various forest animals find it and crawl in, one by one, to escape the cold, with humorous results and an unexpected ending. This is a book your child can enjoy with you or read by themselves on a cold winter’s night. Be sure to check out many other great books by Jan Brett, including The Trouble with Trolls and The Night Before Christmas.
Here are a few other great books about snow or winter:
The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader
White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt
The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton
Stranger in the Woods by Carl R. Sam II & Jean Stoik
Do you have any favorites you would like to share?