Monday, January 20, 2014

Big Snow by Jonathan Bean

Oh boy, was Sprout disappointed in Christmas this year. Not that he didn't love the activities, the tree, the presents, and the time with family. No, all of that was great, but there was one major component missing: snow.

All those songs about white Christmases and sleigh rides have worked a number on our boy. He's convinced that it isn't really a proper Christmas if there isn't snow on the ground. And because we live in the Pacific Northwest, snow isn't a guarantee at Christmas (or even at all during the season.) Though we did have one day where the snow hit about 3 inches deep, it wasn't the magical-snowman-come-to-life event of Sprout's dreams. Poor kiddo.

Instead, we decided to read about snow, because what else can you do? So we hit the library up for some new wintertime reads, and found an absolute gem among them - Jonathan Bean's Big Snow. We recently read Bean's Building Our House, which Sprout adored; that one was heavy in the bedtime rotation for a good three weeks or more. So when he saw the cover image for that book on the back cover of Big Snow, he put two and two together and deduced that, "This one's going to be my favorite too, Mama." Right he was, no less.

In Big Snow, our hero David is eagerly anticipating a heavy snowfall. Clearly he's heard the weather forecast, because all the while that he's helping his mother get the house ready for guests, David's keeping a watchful eye outside. The flour he spills while making cookies reminds him to take a peek out the door, as do the suds from the bathroom cleaners and the white sheets from the beds. Each time he looks, David sees a progression, from sparse flakes to big fluffy ones, to drifts of snow covering the entire world. David dreams that the house is taken over by a big snow. When he awakes, Dad is home early, and the family ventures outside to explore the familiar neighborhood, made somehow strange by its blanket of white.

I've heard a few comparisons between Big Snow and The Snowy Day, and I have to say that this is not a farfetched notion. Both David and Peter share a sense of wonder at the snow, at the world around them that is transformed by this wintry event. There's a dash of humor in each book, and an appreciation for the thrill that "big snow" brings. One thing I find most appealing about both titles is the fact that the diversity in them doesn't drive the story - you could easily replace David in Big Snow with an Asian or Native American or white character and there would be no difference to the narrative. Truth be told, I didn't even notice the main character's ethnicity (multiracial, perhaps?) until Sprout pointed out that "David's skin is brown like mine!" That's a nice touch, in my opinion, and something we need much more of.

Big Snow is a terrific candidate for a winter-themed storytime (though there's a Christmas tree in the house,  the plot isn't holiday-centric) or a cozy bedtime read. This is the kind of story that kids ask for again and again - not because it's splashy or gimmicky, but just because it's comforting, familiar, and classic.

Big Snow by Jonathan Bean, published by Farrar Straus Giroux
Ages 3-6
Source: Library
Sample: "But then the flour, white and fine, made David think of snow. / So he decided to check the weather. / Small flakes fell softly, white and fine."

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