Even in the best of times, getting through a Canadian winter in good spirits is no easy task. Three new picture books come to the rescue, framing snowy weather as a precious opportunity for different experiences, sensations, and perspectives.
In Snow Days, written by Deborah Kerbel and illustrated by Miki Sato, various types of winter precipitation are described in rhyming language that preschoolers can grasp. There is “First snow, surprise snow: / Nature’s sparkly magic show.” There is the ever-popular “Packing snow – best of all!” And the admission that “Other snows are not as nice: slush and sleet, hail and ice.” The text is poetic but accessible, and compact without feeling hasty. It affirms the experiences of young winter veterans, while also being instructional for little newcomers as to why Frosty cannot always be constructed on a whim.
Sato uses paper and fabric collage for the illustrations, creating a striking juxtaposition between the textures of snow (mostly paper) and winter clothes (mostly fabric). Sato also demonstrates the surprising range of white paper: after showcasing the predictable, traditional snowflake cut-out on the first page, tiny haphazard shards evoke “Blowing flakes of frosted light” and crinkled sheets that resemble plasticine represent the coveted packing snow. Kids of various skin colours are pictured, but changing Kerbel’s mention of “Christmas snow” to “holiday snow,” with illustrations that featured symbols of several different winter holidays in house windows – not just Christmas trees and wreaths – would have been more inclusive.
In Snow Song, author A.K. Riley focuses on a very specific winter day – an enchanting, magical, pretend-a-snowman-is-Parson-Brown kind of day – with perfect weather. Riley offers up rich sensory language: couplets containing words like twirl, curl, swirl, and unfurl easily roll off the tongue like a graceful dance of flurries, while the effort of getting out words like swaddled, dawdle, and waddle bring to mind cumbersome, oversized winter clothes. The text talks about the slower pace of winter, which is mirrored beautifully in the rhythm of the language. Phrases like “Slow … / The world is swaddled / Snug in snow” are impossible to read quickly.
Illustrator Dawn Lo uses gouache, pencil crayon, and Photoshop, but her pictures look as if they’ve been rendered in different flavours of soft-serve ice cream. Houses, children’s jackets, and the sky are rendered in muted candy colours such as pink, green, and yellow to create an idyllic winter utopia that offers a smart colour contrast to the snow’s whiteness. Lo shows kids of different racial backgrounds delighting in typical winter activities, including skating and tobogganing. While readers will recognize these familiar winter scenes, Snow Song bathes them in an unexpectedly affecting and delicious light.
Two Drops of Brown in a Cloud of White by Saumiya Balasubramaniam is the first-person story of a young girl helping her mother acclimatize to their inaugural winter. The girl must help Ma traverse snow drifts, black ice, and strong winds to make it home after school. All newcomer experiences are different, and the girl in this story is comfortable and confident in taking the lead to support a parent. In what acts as a metaphor for the entire story, the daughter explains that Ma “steps into giant footprints ready-made in the snow. I make new ones of my own.”
The setting is unmistakably Canada, with a large flag hanging on top of the school, perfect maple leaves blowing by, and a mention of maple syrup. The national symbolism borders on heavy-handed, though it still delivers a dose of gentle empathy and perspective for those who are desensitized to winter’s beauty.
The snow-packed streets are portrayed with realism and palpable heaviness in illustrator Eva Campbell’s oil and pastel pictures. In some spreads, the texture of the canvas shows through, mimicking the different consistencies of snow. Ma’s small nose piercing is mentioned twice in the text, including a reference to how the diamond “scatters the sun into violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red.” Campbell uses this opportunity to infuse a few summery images of flowers and butterflies. It is a gorgeous interpretation of a small detail, magnifying the awe that can be found on the harshest winter day.
Stellar seasonal picture books, like these, do more than celebrate changes in weather. They are essentially exercises in mindfulness, helping readers find variety, beauty, and moments of gratitude at all times of year.