Sunday, November 25, 2007

Winter Stories

I love each of the seasons, each for their own reason, but there is a special place in my heart for winter. Having lived in Sweden for a number of years in my childhood, I measure winter by those norms, i.e. very cold and with lots of snow.

In children's stories, winter is often the metaphor for dying and death, for evil: the ice princess, the snow queen. I have a different take on it. Winter inescapably calls up the images of the dying of the year, of darkness, etc. But when you think about it, it is also the triumph of the human will. Winter is not an act of God, an accident that happens to you out of the blue. It is an event for which you prepare and your survival of that winter is a testament to your will, a test of your capacity to overcome a difficult environment.

It is a little like field sports. I never used to like the nauseating anticipation of a race, the knowledge of the aching muscles and desperate breath that would come. But all of that was more than made up for by the feeling of pinched exhilaration at the end of the race, whether having won or not, of knowing and feeling you have pushed your body to new limits. Winter is something like that.

Of course you can have too much of a good test. Years ago, I had been living in Atlanta for three or four years. While we occasionally get a snow or two, it is not anything like a real winter. Not like a Swedish winter. So I was missing the test of a real winter - real cold, real snow. I moaned to Sally a couple of times about my missing winter but she, having grown up in the tropics of South Carolina, doesn't have the time of day for anything below 80 degrees and views winter with abomination. Whenever she hears me speak of winter or look longingly at photos of a beautiful snowscape, she just rolls her eyes.

In early December, I got a call from our Winnipeg office: Could you come up and spend a week with us? We have to write a proposal for a client and we need your experience with this particular industry.

Winnipeg - now that is good ways north. They surely have good cold, snowy winters up there. Of course my answer was "Yes! I'll come up and help out." So I bustled around the house digging up all my old winter outfits, scarves, gloves, heavy coat - all the things that had been in the way and never been used in Atlanta.

And off I flew Sunday afternoon to Winnipeg. Flying over the Canadian prairie I could see that there were no deep drifts of snow, but there was some snow; certainly more than I was likely to have in Atlanta.

It was only when I walked off the plane that I began to realize that I might have gotten more than I had bargained for. It was cold; really cold. I decided it was just because I was out of shape and hadn't worn all the warm clothes. I got to the hotel, checked-in, and went up to my room, unpacked and got out all the accoutrements of cold weather clothing. It was late, but I really wanted to feel the bite of cold.

I changed and walked down to the foyer. As I started out the front door, the concierge caught my attention and pointed out that Winnipeg has an underground system of walkways and I could get anywhere I wanted using them. "No, thanks. I just want a breath of fresh air. I'll be back in a bit." If I had paid close attention, I would probably have seen another set of rolling eyes.

So out I went into the bracing Canadian prairie winter. Oooouuuuch! Nothing in Sweden prepared me for this. Minus 40 degrees! Made sharply worse by a stiff breeze. Of course, there was nothing for it but to put on a brave face and walk at least a short ways. A few blocks would give me enough time not to look too foolish. Well, I made it to the end of the block. It felt like frost bite was already taking the rims of my ears and my lips. I could barely open my eyes without weeping. I had to breathe slowly through my nose in order not to completely freeze out my nasal passages. Despite simply walking, I felt breathless as from a run. I finally found an entrance to the underground passage ways and made my escape. So now, while still usually missing hard winters, I am much more careful about what I do about it.

I suspect every reader, consciously or unconsciously, has some real or imaginary place or places where they love to read and some way of going about it. Just yesterday, as I was walking through the living room, my youngest came bouncing past me, a book clutched under one arm and a bowl of boiled peanuts in the other hand. He had the biggest grin on his face and said in passing - "Boiled peanuts and a great book. Mmm-um!"

Places - It might be on the grass in the garden that catches the warmth of the sun at just the right time of the year. Or perhaps it is a special leather sofa in a room somewhere in the house, or maybe a window seat looking out over the street. Someplace. For me, it is an ugly looking old overstuffed chair in the house we lived in in Sweden. It wasn't our chair. It came with the house. It had a funny, dusty kind of smell and its covering was some sort of artificial felt, but it was just the right shape. I could curl up so comfortably in that thing. There was a nice big floor lamp right beside it that not only gave me good light, but was warming as well. And when I think of the favorite places I have read, that is close to the top. Curled up there, in mid-winter, with a good book, a warm light and large open window out onto the snow covered backyard. It is cold and dark out there and I am warm and content in here. That is a treasured moment.

Here is a collection of winter stories. Explicitly excluded are Christmas stories which are a list of their own. These are stories taking place in winter or have to do with winter activities. Are there others you would suggest?

Picture Books

The Mitten by Jan Brett Recommended

Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton Highly Recommended

An Indian Winter by Russell Freedman and illustrated by Karl Bodmer Suggested

Dear Rebecca, Winter Is Here by Jean Craighead George and illustrated by Loretta Krupinski Suggested

The Big Snow by Berta Hader & Elmer Hader Recommended

Snowie Rolie by William Joyce Suggested

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats Highly Recommended

The Tomten and the Fox by Astrid Lindgren and illustrated by Harald Wiberg & Karl-Erik Forsslund Recommended

Froggy Gets Dressed by Jonathan London and illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz Suggested

The Race of the Birkebeiners by Lise Lunge-Larsen and illustrated by Mary Azarian Recommended

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Mary Azarian Recommended

Snow by Roy McKie and illustrated by P. D. Eastman Suggested

There Come a Soldier by Peggy Mercer and illustrated by Ron Mazellan Highly Recommended

Don't Wake Up the Bear by Marjorie Dennis Murray and illustrated by Patricia Wittmann Suggested

Henry and Mudge in the Sparkle Days by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Sucie Stevenson Suggested

Here Comes Darrell by Leda Schubert and illustrated by Mary Azarian Suggested

Brave Irene by William Steig Recommended

When Winter Comes by Nancy Van Laan and illustrated by Susan Gaber Suggested

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr Highly Recommended

Independent Reader

Cam Jansen and the Snowy Day Mystery by David A. Adler and illustrated by Susanna Natti Suggested

Corduroy's Snow Day by Don Freeman and illustrated by Lisa McCue Suggested

Where Fish Go in Winter and Other Great Mysteries by Amy Goldman Koss and illustrated by Laura J. Bryant Recommended

Changes for Felicity by Valerie Tripp and illustrated by Dan Andreasen Suggested

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder and illustrated by Garth Williams Recommended

Young Adult

Endurance by Alfred Lansing Highly Recommended

The Snow Walker by Farley Mowat Suggested

Blizzard by Jim Murphy Suggested

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