The double page spread of the coldest day heightens the tension in the story between Ezra and old Betty and sets the stage for changes to take place. The climax is when old Betty opens Ezra’s bedroom door and discovers Ezra in his bed on the coldest night without a single blanket or quilt. Now the story takes a different turn. Being rudely awakened, Ezra shouts he doesn’t want Betty to come and visit anymore and Betty says that she’s fine with that as she slams the door and leaves. But over time, the dogs and Ezra feel a change, and Ezra can’t quite figure out what it is. Then one spring day, dressed up in a new shirt, he makes some cookies and goes down the hill to visit old Betty. Surprised by dogs’ barking, the dogs and Ezra discover that Betty has found Ezra’s secret answer to the cold nights. The ending conversation between the two brings a smile to all readers, young and old. I love to discuss with students about the changes they notice in the characters, Ezra, Betty and even the dogs, and the reasons why. I also ask if they can find the page where the story changes, the climax. This is a very satisfying read aloud especially using different voices for Ezra and old Betty which helps make the characters and their conflicts real.
In a more contemporary story, Cold Snap by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), a winter freeze completely changes the small town of Toby Mills. Everything about this book makes you feel cold, from the sparkling textured cover to the pictures throughout. Even the text, often done in sticklike frozen letters, highlights the weather conditions – “Ears tingled. Cheeks frosty pink. Toes, too numb to wiggle.” There is an icicle that dangles from the nose of the statue of the town’s founder, General Toby, and each day it grows longer until after a week, it has passed his belly button and “kissed the ground”. Various members of the town are described in ways they are having difficulty, as well as ways they are helping each other cope with the zero degree temperatures. This is a story about community. Readers become familiar with the characters of the Sullivan sisters who own the Sullivan Diner, the Moffat family, Miss Dove – the teacher, Pastor Pickthorn, and the mayor and his wife. In the end, it’s the mayor’s wife who gets an idea to get everyone together. Flyers with “WINTER SURPRISE! T-Bone Hill 7 p.m. Everybody Welcome” are delivered all over town. Even though everyone questions the idea of going out on such a cold night, Mrs. Moffat declares, “We ought to go. It’s our civic duty.” And so the whole town assembles on the hilltop to a roaring surprise! A bonfire! Everyone enjoys the heat – “warm, old-fashioned, where-have-you-been heat.” Hot cider, doughnuts, music, dance and even sugar-on-snow candy are part of the festivities and everyone forgets about the cold snap. The next morning the temperature is 15° … and heading up! This wonderfully illustrated colorful book is an engaging interactive read-aloud about community and people working together to survive. Included is a recipe for “Sugar-on-Snow Candy”.
There are two books with almost the same title that I like to read and share together, having students compare and contrast them. The first is Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Constance R. Bergum. (Atlanta, GA.: Peachtree, 2009). Melissa Stewart, a naturalist through and through, engages readers with her opening words, ”You spend your days sledding and skating and having snowball fights. But under the snow lies a hidden world.” She developed her powers of observation and appreciation of the natural world at a young age by taking walks in the outdoors with her father, and she brings this rich background to her books. The watercolor illustrations highlight the areas that the text so richly describes. “Under the snow in a field…dozens of ladybugs pack themselves into a gap in an old stone wall. Below them, a snake rests in a hole all its own.” Other animals are discussed, voles, chipmunks, a mourning cloak, a centipede and a queen bee, a wood frog, a woolly bear caterpillar, a spotted salamander, and a woodchuck. “Under the snow on a pond … bluegills circle slowly through the chilly water. They don’t have enough energy to chase the water boatmen swimming nearby.” Stewart goes on to include the other under water animals such as a carp, water striders, and a frog, a turtle. “Under the snow in a wetland, a beaver family huddles together in a cozy log lodge. But even on the coldest winter days, red-spotted newts dodge and dart, whiz and whirl below the ice. And so do you.” The sparse words in this text are vividly descriptive, both the adjectives and the verbs, and are complemented by realistic illustrations. This non-fiction picture book would work well as a companion text to winter field trips observing different natural environments such as a field, a pond, or nearby wetland. Or … you can take your students on a virtual field trip to visit the spot that inspired UNDER THE SNOW as well as WHEN RAIN FALLS and hear Stewart tell the story. It's called “Where Do Ideas Come From”. Here's a link: http://www.melissa-stewart.com/video/index.html
The second book is Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner with art by Christopher Silas Neal (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2011). As a child cross-country skies over the snow into the woods with her father, she reflects on the red squirrel she sees on the snow and wonders where he has gone when he disappears. “Under the snow” is her Dad’s reply. “Under the snow is a whole secret kingdom where the smaller forest animals stay safe and warm. You’re skiing over them now.” As they glide over the snow they observe a great-horned owl, deer tracks and “An oval of melted snow tells of a good night’s sleep.” They also see a snowshoe hare, and a bushy-tailed fox tip his ear to the ground, listening, and then leaps to uncover an invisible mouse dinner under the snow. While the narrative text describes what is happening above the snow, it also describes what is happening under the snow, although unseen by the child and her father, but seen by the reader. Collage type illustrations in mixed media also add visual information about the text. The book ends “Over the snow I glide home in tired legs…Under the covers, I snuggle deep drift into dreams…of cuddling deer mice and slumbering frogs. Hungry beavers and tunneling voles. Drowsy bears and busy squirrels. And the secret kingdom under the snow.” This book includes an Author’s Note describing the “secret kingdom under the snow” that scientists call the “subnivean zone”, as well as additional factual information about the animals described in the book and their winter activities, all of which I share with children. I found this all this information very helpful. Also included are suggestions for Further Reading, books and websites. I would suggest reading this back matter before reading the book aloud. I feel it is important to let children know that there is often information in the back of non-fiction picture books and they should look for it.
Snow Day Dance by Will Hubbell. (Morton Grove, IL.: Albert Whitman & Company, 2005). For those of you who want to be sure you have a “Snow Day”, this little gem of a book will delight your younger students. A teacher gives her students the secret to insuring that they’ll have a snow day. “Wear your pajamas backward tonight and do the magic dance.” “Shhh!” But don’t say s_ _ _ d _ _ because “it won’t happen if you say it.” This delightful fun all takes place in a book really about weather – snow – describing when and how snow falls and what shape the snowflakes take. The language is poetically simple. “Cars glide over snowy quilts.” “Trees are made of lace.” The back matter includes information “About Snow and Snowflakes.” For a rather simplistic story and text, this back matter is scientific and factual. It gives a great description about the formation of snow. “What we call snowflakes are really snow crystals. Crystals are made of identical molecules fitting together in a pattern. Since frozen water molecules make a hexagonal pattern, snow crystals have six sides, too.” The information continues with more detailed facts. I would suggest reading the back matter before you read this book aloud. It would also be a great book to pair with the following book, Snow Crystals.
Snow Crystals by W.A. Bentley and W.J. Humphries. (N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1962). I imagine most all of you know the Caldecott winning book Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. This book, Snow Crystals, exists because of an urgent request that all of W.A. Bentley’s snow crystal pictures be preserved and made available to “the scientist seeking truth, the artist searching for patterns of graceful form, and all to whom the beautiful in Nature has a strong appeal.” With funding from the American Meteorological Society, this book of over 2453 of W.A. Bentley’s photographs was made possible and first published in 1931 by McGraw-Hill. It was republished in 1962 unabridged and unaltered from the 1931 edition. There are a few chapters explaining the History, the Taking if the Snow Crystal’s Picture, and Classification, but the substance of the book is the snow crystal photographs. These photographs are printed in order of the amount of water content in them. You will find the first crystals are rather thick and appear solid. The snow crystals start this way but become more detailed and delicate as the air temperatures become colder and there is less water moisture. The more delicate snow crystals are truly beautiful. And there are no two alike! The photographs near the end of the book are pictures of other, more or less related, forms of water, especially frost and dew. This primary source book really needs to be paired with the biography Snowflake Bentley. I believe Snow Crystals is only available in paperback, but I had my copies bound. I kept one in my Professional Collection for teachers because I found my students usually had them out and I always wanted one available for teachers’ use.
Snow Day! By Lester L. Laminack and illustrated by Adam Gustavson. (Atlanta, GA.: Peachtree, 2007) This is a MUST READ for everyone, especially those of you reading this! Written in first person narrative, the dialogue is what each of us might say in anticipation of a winter snow day and a day to ourselves! “Did you hear that? Did the weatherman just say what I thought he did? Did he say… SNOW? Oh please, let it snow. Lots and lots of snow.” From this first page, the reader becomes a member of the family anticipating and preparing for a snowstorm and planning the snow day’s activities…”No alarm clock ringing. No one saying, “Time to get up.” “Tomorrow we’ll have a PJ day”. “We’ll sip hot chocolate from giant snowman mugs.” “We’ll stay inside, warm and cozy, while the snow drifts down in soft white heaps.” “ We can build a snow fort down by the walk.” “Whoa. Look at that sky! Snow is falling like a bazillion goose feathers. Yippee! Wonderful, amazing we-can’t-go snow.” The illustrations are from all the different perspectives from the family involved. The reader feels right in the midst of all the excitement and activity. The dialogue is fast moving, exciting, and the voice is authentic. Ask your students whose voice it is. A story that spans all ages, I look forward to your comments about this book. I think you’ll agree, it’s a great read!