Some Seasonal Book Reviews

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Snow – Written and Illustrated by Uri Schulevitz

Farrer Strauss and Giroux, 1998

In this simple story, a boy and his dog experience the first snowfall of the year in a busy, small town. Just as the snow begins to fall one flake at a time, the boy gets excited and begins to tell all the people he sees. No one believes that it is really snowing. Of course the snow doesn’t listen to everyone’s doubts, nor to the radio, nor to the television. As the story develops, so does the landscape of the city from dreary gray to a magical place layered with white snow. The illustrations in this book really make the story come alive. I don’t know if it is intentional, but they are very Russian to me. Small details such as the oversized radio, the scale of the cars compared to people and the small dot of white snow on the page keep the simple story interesting. Schulevitz has the illustrative talent to be able to have a page with hundreds of tiny snowflakes look as though each flake is unique. I found the transformation of familiar Mother Goose characters from still statues to dancing friends slightly strange, but not obtrusive. This book has some of the wonder of Ezra Jack Keat’s Snowy Day.

There’s so much in this short concept book about snow.  There’s counting (there was one snowflake; there were two snowflakes), colors  (gray sky becomes white sky) and there’s rhyme and repetition! This book is appropriate for ages 3-5  and would be a great addition to a unit on weather. No surprise that this was a Caldecott Honor Book!

Christmas Makes Me Think – Written by Tony Medina, Illustrated by Chandra Cox

Lee and Low Books, 2001

All three books I have selected today have great classroom potential. This one would fit very well under a “green” theme or unit on “sustainability”. There are not enough books of color that have a strong focus on the environment and ecology. This one is very welcome.

In this unusual Christmas story, a young boy is thrilled that his favorite holiday is coming, and he looks forward to the presents, a great big tree, and baking a chocolate cake with his grandmother. But soon he starts to wonder: What happens to all the trees that get cut down? And what about all the people “who don’t have a place to live or food to eat or presents in a stocking?” One sees his attitude subtly shift as he starts to think maybe he should give his extra presents to kids who don’t have any, and give homeless people hats, gloves, and scarves. “Christmas makes me think about others and not just me!” He realizes he can really make a difference, and his thoughtfulness leads to a wonderful celebration for his whole community. Chandra Cox has illustrated the story with bright and bold, mixed-media art, with a very urban feel to it.

Through these times of economic troubles, global warming and civil unrest, Christmas should make all of us think!!! This book is suitable for ages 3-8.

There is also a great teacher’s guide as well as a page of resources at the back of the book for children and families who want to get more involved in their community during Christmas, or indeed anytime.

Light the Lights – A Story about Hanukkah & Christmas by Margaret Moorman

Scholastic, 1994

An important, simple story of a little girl in a family where one parent is a Jew and one a Christian, and how they combine the rituals of both faiths during this season. The story line isn’t super strong, but really focuses on the shared traditions of the two faiths during Hanukah and Christmas. Light and fellowship are the two foci. When winter approaches, and all grows dark, Emma knows it will soon be time to take out the family menorah with her father, and decorate the Christmas tree with lights and baubles, with her mother. The illustrations have a very traditional, heartwarming, harmonious feel about them.

This book emphasizes the warmth and sense of community evoked by both Hanukkah and Christmas and is a good book for helping children start a discussion about interfaith families and communities. Suitable for ages 5 – 8.

Books # 116-118 in There’s a Books Read to Me Picture Book Challenge.


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19 Responses to Some Seasonal Book Reviews

  1. Funny, I actually wrapped up in a blanket as I read this, as it was a bit cool tonight. I love anything with snow and your first book I loved, the illustrations looked quaint and a little eastern european to me, to. Christmas Makes Me Think ,sends a great message Joanna, and I recognised Light the Lights, as I have come across this one already. Thankyou for another great review of books, with real christmas feel about them.

  2. Joanna says:

    Thanks, Diane, I was trying to select a more diverse seasonal selection.

  3. I really enjoyed all three selections. Have not read any of them before. I love anything with a hint of Russian to it. “Snow” sounded like a quiet, simple book with a child recognizing the changes to the landscape.

    Especially like “Christmas Makes Me Think,” as I like to see kids who see the needs of others around them and want to help. This should be on every book shelf. Also liked the activity guide as it had great ideas!

    Light the Lights sounded like a lovely Hanukkah story. I like the idea ofthe child living in a family where both traditions are celebrated — such a rich experience.

    • Joanna says:

      Huh, maybe no one else will get the Russian feel from Snow 😉

      I agree that with all the fun traditional Christmas books around it is great to have one that focuses outward, like “Christmas makes me think.”

      I don’t think I have read any other picture books about two faith households, though they must exist, and there is certainly a need for them.

  4. Joanna, we have a copy of Snow by Uri Shulevitz in the library, and I pull it every year for a winter book display-but not once have I read it! Can you guess what I’ll be reading tomorrow during my conference period? Thanks for the rec! 🙂

  5. Joanna says:

    Do let me know what you think? Especially, if you like the Mother Goose characters animated?

  6. Susanna says:

    These all look wonderful. I’m especially interested in the second one because what does happen to all the trees that are cut down? Surely not all of them get used… It also sounds like it could be a great entry for Perfect Picture Books! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  7. Joanna says:

    Susanna, a great project to go with Book #2 could be to find out what happens to these trees in your town. I shall start formatting my reviews in line with PPBF and then they can be used there if appropriate!

  8. These all sound like good books for this time of year, the second one in particular. I have to admit that your suggestion to Pat that there perhaps needs to be more books that show a multicultural celebration such as Christmas and Hanukkah, intrigued me. Hmmm… one of those “I could do something with that” moments!

    Just a note — I have signed up twice for email notification of your posts, but receive nothing. I’m so glad I clicked over tonight to see if there was anything new prior to PPBF!

    • The pb idea is noted and is in my “Books Not Yet Published” folder on my computer’s desktop!

      As for the email subscription option, it was tricky to find, because it has sort of mushed itself into the RSS feed widget. Then, when I entered my email and clicked subscribe, I got a popup that said

      1) this feed does not have email subscription activated (or somesuch wording)

      2) welcome back, elizabethannewrites!


      • Joanna says:

        Thanks, I seem to be having real problems. Any ideas. What plugin did you use?

        • Mine’s just the “follow by email” widget that comes with the theme I use in WordPress, so I’m not much help. I wanted to have a pretty RSS feed thingie, but couldn’t figure out how to do that, so I just have a blah RSS subscription thing and an even more boring looking subscribe by email thing.

          I’m no help, am I? Sigh.

  9. Joanna says:

    Beth thanks for the note about the subscriptions. I have taken that widget off and am trying something else, *sigh*! If you could sign up and see if it works , I would appreciate it.

    Hope you noted down your idea 😉

  10. I haven’t heard of any of these but I am going to buy Uri Shulevitz’s Writing with Pictures soon. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Joanna says:

    Catherine, I hope you enjoy SNOW!

  12. We read Snow last year and I thought the illustrations were beautiful. However, I can’t remember the mother goose characters. Guess it’s time for a re-read!

  13. Lori says:

    These sound like wonderful titles. I feel so fortunate that our library has so many (shelves and shelves!) Christmas books and many that explore how Christmas is celebrated throughout the world. We also have a large Hanukkah section. I checked to see if “Light the Lights” owned- it is, but all copies are in use. I’ll have to wait to get to read it.

  14. Joanna says:

    Lori, I do confess to being a little envious of your well-stocked library! It is fun to discover all the different celebrations at this time of year.

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