Snowballs by Lois Ehlert

Cover Image of Snowballs by Louis EhlertEhlert, Lois. SnowballsOrlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995.

Plot:  It’s a snowball day, the perfect kind of day to make a snow family! But it only lasts until the sun comes out…

Setting: A snowy winter day

Point of View: 1st person

Theme: snow, snowballs, snowmen, nature, creativity, play, winter, family, birds, seeds, materials, textures,

Literary Quality: In Snowballs, a child describes waiting for the perfect snow day and the process of creating a snow family, including the family pets. From the opening page, which asks, “Do you think birds know when it’s going to snow?” Ehlert’s large-print text is conversational, and her collages are big and colorful. The collages also change orientation, using full two-page spreads vertically to depict a single snowman. When the sun comes out, the background changes from grey to bright orange. The the story and illustrations combine to make a great read-aloud where children are viewing the book from a distance and ready to respond to the narrator’s questions and observations. Kids will especially enjoy Ehlert’s edgy, funny snowmen. In addition to snowman supplies such as hats, scarves, sticks, and pinecones, the narrator has saved objects like seeds, nuts, fruit, popcorn and dried corn kernels, washers, compares, toy car wheels, plastic fish, and a necktie. Readers will have fun recognizing the every-day materials, and find great inspiration for either their own collages or snowmen! The picture book includes a visual index of the “good stuff” to save for snowmen as well as information about snow and photographs of snowmen. In these final pages we see supplies, mittens, and gloves from all over the world. The board book edition does not have these fabulous appendices.

Audience: 0-8. A great read for a snowy day, or a day stuck at home, as it provides activity ideas for both indoor and outdoor play! 

Personal reaction: Snowballs is a favorite winter story in our house. Even as a baby my son loved the book, I think because he found the stark contrast in the collages stimulating. The big white circles with bright splashes of color are appealing to little eyes! The story has good rhythm, too. Now, at a year and a half, my little guy still loves the book and we play outside in the snow whenever we can. Of course, he has more interest in sliding down a big snowball than continuing to build it into a snowman, but hey, a snowball is a snowball! We’ll get to the snowman stage eventually. 

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Leaves by David Ezra Stein

Stein, David Ezra. Leaves. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2007.
Cover of "Leaves" by David Ezra Stein

Plot:  A young bear wonders at the falling leaves.

Setting: Autumn on a wooded island

Point of View: 3rd person

Theme: autumn, fall, leaves, bears, wonder, curiosity, seasons, hibernation, woods, worry

Literary Quality: With spare, simple text this story captures all the curiosity, concern, frustration, and inevitable sleepiness of a toddler. When the leaves begin to fall during the bear’s first year of life, he wonders whether they’re okay. “He tried to catch them and put them back on…but it was not the same.” Eventually, the bear uses the leaves to make a bed and go to sleep while winter comes. When the bear, who is never named or even described as a bear in the text, welcomes the new leaves of spring, we rejoice with him on the top of his hill in the lovely small world that seems so big to him. The bear’s actions are illustrated with watercolors rich in autumnal hues. The imperfect squares framing the illustrations add to the childlike sensibility of the book. This is a lovely story for the changing seasons, the falling leaves, and sleepyheads.

Audience: Ages 0-4. A great book for both one-on-one and storytime settings.

Personal reaction: I own the board book edition of Leaves, and it always makes me smile the whole way through. It is a dear little book that brings warmth to any chilly fall day. So cuddle up and read!

All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee

Cover of "All the World" by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla FrazeeScanlon, Liz Garton. All the World. Illustrated by Marla Frazee. New York: Beach Lane Books, 2009.

Plot:  From seashore to garden bed, a rainy hour to a comforting cafe, a noisy family-filled room to outdoor night quiet, this rhyming picture book follows a family through their day.

Setting: Small coastal town in United States

Point of View: 1st person (determined by lines such as “All the world is you and me”)

Theme: family, world, life, love, nature, community

Literary Quality: As rhythmic as the waves we see depicted crashing along the rocky shore, the rhymes in this picture book carry readers page to page and place to place. Movement, both linear and circular, is a theme of the story and also artfully crafted with hand-lettered words and pencil and watercolor illustrations. From smaller vignettes surrounded by a lot of white space to full two-page spreads, we move in and out of this     Sample vignette illustration from "All the World" beautiful world. The words, too, are not in straight lines across the page but move up and down and often form part of or a frame for the illustrations. Scanlon balances concrete details with abstract concepts in short musical phrases, and invokes all the senses in doing so: touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell. For example, in the garden we see and hear the “Hive, bee, wings, hum,” and touch and see and taste the “Husk, cob, corn, yum!” The ebb and flow from small moments to big ideas in both words and pictures create a lullaby of a story that’s buoyant with a celebration of life, family, community, and the world in which we live.

Audience: Ages 2-8. The short, rhyming text and many pictures will captivate the very young, and older readers will also find much to appreciate in the larger ideas about the world.

Personal reaction: This was one of those books I happened upon while browsing through a bookstore and promptly sat down to read and re-read. The poetry and beautiful illustrations drew me in and kept me lingering.