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  • Writer's pictureRachel Sherlock

The Snowy Days: Ten Wonderfully Wintry Picture Books

Updated: Oct 26, 2018

As the evenings draw in for winter, it’s the perfect time to snuggle down with your little ones, and pull out some picture books to read together. And what better way to embrace the season than to stock up on wintry picture books? With this in mind I’ve assembled a list of ten picture books with gorgeous illustrations of winter and snow. Some of these books are Christmas tales, while others are simply stories set in snowy landscapes, but they all highlight the magical wonder of the world in midwinter: the crunch of fresh snow underfoot, or stillness of a frosty night. So whether you and your kids are longing for an unlikely white Christmas or you want to appreciate your icy weather with a little more wonder, these books are a splendid way to celebrate this magical time of year.

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs

Ages: 5 - 8 years

Opening this list with a compulsory classic, Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman is the quintessential winter picture book for good reason. The story of a young boy and his Snowman come-to-life is beloved across the world, especially due to the stunning animated adaptation. However, Briggs’ book has some marked differences from the short film, there is no trip to the North Pole, in fact there are no Christmas details. Instead, this wordless book focusses solely on the boy and the Snowman, and their iconic flight takes them to watch the sunrise. Both versions are beautiful and poignant, and the book has the advantage of allowing you to mull over Briggs’ illustrations. Drawn with coloured pencils, the handcrafted style is delightfully personal and the muted palette soothing and nostalgic. As the two characters silently develop their friendship, we too, are drawn into the beauty of their camaraderie and quaint setting of this magical story.

Shackleton's Journey by William Grill

Ages 7 - 11 years

Moving to a new edition of a classic, Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill is an utterly enchanting rendition of Shackleton’s historic 1915 expedition across Antarctica. Grill does a fantastic job telling a thrilling and adventurous story while also delivering lots of educational and historical detail. A particular favourite is the illustrated list of the supplies and equipment for the expedition. Like Briggs’ illustrations, Grill’s drawings are done with coloured pencils, giving them a similarly fresh and personal feel. The drawings alternate between small doodles and vignettes, and dramatic, sweeping, landscapes. This allows us to switch between the personal moments, with their nitty-gritty details, and the vastness of that desolate and icy landscape. While aimed at 7-11 year olds, Shackleton’s Journey is such a beautiful item, it makes a perfect gift for any age range, particularly for those with a fondness for history, and more specifically the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr

Ages 3 - 7

‘It was late one night, long past my bedtime, when Pa and I went owling.’ The opening sentence of Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon encapsulates the atmosphere of tentative adventure and wonder in the book. The story follows a young girl and her father as they head out to the snowy forest at night see if they can find a Great Horned Owl. As the two quietly trudge through the stillness of the night, the story and the illustrations perfectly conjure that sense of silent expectancy that is uniquely associated with winter. John Schoenherr’s illustrations are stunning, balancing the empty landscape with moments of beautiful detail. The pages showing the countryside of snow drifts and shadowy trees are particularly mesmerising.

Winter Story by Jill Barklem

Ages 3 - 7

Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge series is truly something to treasure. It follows a community of mice living in the eponymous Brambly Hedge, and their various celebrations and adventures. Winter Story completes the series’ seasonal books and follows the mice experiencing the biggest snowfall in years. With wide-eyed excitement, the mice wait to see if there is enough snow to build an Ice Hall in which to hold a Snow Ball. What follows are scenes of flurried preparations, building and cooking and decoration but among the tumult of excitement, some mice find there are also dangers to tunneling under the snow. There’s something irresistibly comforting about the quaint and cosy lives of these admirable mice. Barklem’s illustrations are filled with intricate detail, so there’s plenty of room to explore in this beautifully textured world, hidden among the hedges. The books were also adapted for a gorgeous stop-motion animated TV series that we can highly recommend.

The Snow Day by Komako Sakai

Ages 3 - 5

Moving from the countryside to the cityscape, Komako Sakai’s The Snow Day captures that wonderful moment in time, when you wake up to your normal day, and find that all has come to a stop, and instead you have a ‘snow day’. A little rabbit wakes after a night of snow to find kindergarten cancelled and the snow still falling. Her mother, worried about catching a cold insists on staying inside until after the storm passes. The story ends with a glorious moment of release as the little rabbit gets her wish to play in the snow, and night descends. It’s an atmospheric and tender story, wonderfully brought to life by the nuanced art style. The black background contrasts starkly with the brightness of the white snow, and the rabbits’ feelings are illustrated through their ears. The simple story is handled with such delicate care that it is easy to fall in love with this small and snowy tale.

The Tomten and the Fox adapted by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Harald Wiberg

Ages 4 - 8

Astrid Lindgren is a well-known name in children’s literature, having authored the Pippi Longstocking books. In this picture book, she turns to Swedish folklore, adapting a poem by Karl-Erik Forsslund about a hungry fox who comes to a farmhouse on a cold December night. There he meets the Tomten, a gnome-like creature of Scandinavian folklore, who guards the farm and keeps the animals safe. Harald Wiberg’s illustrations of the starry winter’s night create the hushed, luminous atmosphere, where it feels like anything is possible. A charming story that also introduces young readers to other cultural traditions around winter.

Discover more children's books about world mythology and folklore here: Not Just Greek Gods: World Myths for Kids

One Snowy Night by Nick Butterworth

Ages 2 - 6

Nick Butterworth’s series following Percy the Park Keeper and his animal friends is one of those charming and delightful series of books that can be relied on to catch children’s imagination. One Snowy Night is perhaps the best loved of the series. Percy always looks after the animals in his park, but as the snow begins to fall thick and fast, he finds he may have to house them for the night. There are plenty of animals, and not much space in his tiny park keeper’s hut, but Percy attempts to find place for them all. This gently funny and warm-hearted story is made all the more cosy by its chilly setting. Like both the Brambly Hedge series and The Snowman, Percy the Park Keeper was adapted for the screen, as an animated TV show, which sustained the books’ jovial tone and complements Butterworth's books wonderfully.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Ages 2 - 5

For a simple picture book, The Snowy Day carries a lot of weight. Published in 1962, the book pioneered the use of collage art for illustration, and the use of urban landscapes in children’s books, but more than that, the book’s author Ezra Jack Keats broke new ground by choosing to represent minority children as his central characters. In fact it was named in a list by the Library of Congress of ‘Books that Shaped America.’ With all this clout, The Snowy Day still manages to endure as a simple and delightful book about a child exploring a city now covered in snow.

While most of the books on this list have had relatively muted palettes, or even monochromatic contrasts of dark nights and white snow, Keats’ illustrations are striking in their colours. Bold blocks of yellow, red, and white, accompany Keats’ simple poetic text, it’s no wonder The Snowy Day has remained such a beloved picture book through the decades.

The Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Jon J Muth

Ages 4 - 8

This is one of the few Christmas-centred books on this list, but it certainly carries enough of that eponymous Christmas magic to go around. The book opens in the ‘Far, far North, when the nights are longest and the stars shine brightest,’ as Santa tends to his reindeer and sled, darns his socks and carefully chooses his presents. He is waiting for the magic to arrive, so that he can spread Christmas joy across the world. This is not the rambunctious and jovial Santa of so many stories but Lauren Thompson’s quiet and even subdued story conveys that air of mysterious magic and wonder so characteristic of this list. Jon J Muth’s beautiful watercolour illustrations complement the story perfectly, and his desolate snowy landscapes are hauntingly beautiful.

The Gritterman by Orlando Weeks

Our final book is actually the one most recently published. It is also the only one not specifically written for children; instead it represents a new meeting point between picture books and graphic novels. The Gritterman is certainly beautiful, but it is also melancholy. It follows an unsung hero, gritting the roads at night on Christmas Eve. In the blue-black of the night he reflects on his purpose and meaning in life. It is a lovingly crafted portrait of the dignity of a man who sees the merit and importance of a simple task.

The book’s author and illustrator Orlando Weeks was the frontman of indie rock band the Maccabees, and hasn’t left his roots too far behind as he wrote a ten track album to accompany the book. The illustrations, done in colouring pencil, have their own distinctive style but also harken back to the iconic drawings we saw in Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman. Indeed, Briggs himself has called The Gritterman ‘extraordinary and original.’ This book is a beautiful object, and tells a poignant tale; Weeks has certainly created a book which will be treasured by its readers.

This article was originally written for and published on November 22, 2017.

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