over and under the snow

My close friends are having children.  I've spread the word that I intend to contribute to (or manufacture out of whole cloth) the picture book libraries of these little ones.  I realize that my thoughts on the proper curation of picture book libraries = perfect blog material, but I haven't gotten myself 'together' enough on a Tuesday to do a themed post of Top 10 Books for a Baby's Library.  I have thoughts, though... oh! so many thoughts.  It will have to happen soon.  One of the books that would definitely make my list (for girls and boys) is Kate Messner’s nonfiction picture book, Over and Under the Snow.

over and under the snow by kate messner cover art
Over the snow, the world is hushed and white.

But under the snow is a secret world of squirrels and snowshoe hares, bears and bullfrogs, and many other animals who live through the winter, safe and warm under the snow.

A parent and child cross-country ski through on a winter's day, discussing the various animals that hibernate, burrow and survive winter in their unique snowy habitat.  While they travel along, some animals meet them above ground, while others stay hidden, under the snow.  The book's action is (ostensibly) carried along by an afternoon skiing trip, but the pages focus on the animals in the woods rather than the human travelers observing them.

This book is a beautiful, refreshing entry into the winter-themed picture book canon.  First off, it is really lovely: Christopher Silas Neal's mixed media artwork is fantastic, and brings the wintry, wooded landscape to life.  The contrast of colors and materials show the animals and their habitats in detail, and draw the eye to different parts of the page for each separate scene.  Whether the reader pays any attention to the text or not, he/she is sure to be engaged by the images, for they tell the story very well on their own.

And that's not to say that the text lacks anything!  It's got a great rhythm to it, with just the right mix of repetition, interest and action that the whole comes together into an ordinary/extraordinary adventure.  Add in thought-provoking facts about animal habits, and you have a book that is entertaining, educational, and all-around a work of art.  The mix of fantastic storytelling through art and text will keep the interest of readers of all ages.

Another (small) thing I appreciated about this book is that it references winter without any of the holiday touchstones which might throw kids for a loop.  My friends work in public schools with extremely diverse student populations, and for some of their students, Christmas, Hanukkah and other winter holidays are foreign concepts.  This book is about snow and animals.  The turn of seasons is universal (and unexceptionable)!

Recommended for: anyone looking for a new classic children's picture book to add to their collection, and fans of Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day and Levi Pinfold's Black Dog.


kayerj said...

I think top ten picture books would be a perfect list. They are so important to new readers.

Chris Dowgin said...

A forgotten classic is The Moose, the Goose, and Little Nobody by Ellen Raskin. The Moose and the Goose find a little mouse in a dormer that has fallen off his house. The Moose and the Goose do not know dormers belong on houses and a hilarious adventure begins as they try to find the mouse's home. Beautiful illustrations in a unique style, Raskin ha made a beautiful classic. One that can be added to any newborn's growing collection. One up there with Wyeth, Rackham, Parish, Pyle, and Tenniel.

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