Winter is a great time to snuggle up indoors with a stack of books and a warm mug of hot chocolate as the snow falls gently past the window (or just covers your car in a disgusting crust of ice so you don’t want to go anywhere). These read-alouds are guaranteed to make you feel cozy and warm; they make great gifts, too!
Best in Snow
By April Pulley Sayre
Nonfiction books appropriate for the very young are few and far between, but this glorious volume filled with stunning nature photography is great for babies through preschoolers and even beyond. The photographs can largely speak for themselves, but are paired with spare but rhythmic, poetic factual text in a story that makes a circle from beginning to end. (Sayre is an Indiana resident and all photos were taken in the Midwest. She has a book for every season, and they’re all great!)
The Snowy Day
By Ezra Jack Keats
One can’t speak of winter read-alouds without invoking this early-1960s classic. Not only does the simple story evoke a child’s pleasure and excitement over the season’s first snow (so different from the feelings of most adults!), it deserves to be celebrated as the first mainstream picture book featuring an African-American protagonist. (Visit Keats’ website for fun reader-submitted live-action, marionette, and claymation versions of The Snowy Day.)
Bear Snores On
By Karma Wilson
An entertaining story with sweeping, colorful illustrations about animals who gather to have a feast in a bear’s den while he hibernates. (Hibernation is a scientific concept that, for some reason, appears repeatedly in children’s literature and entertainment.) This is fun to read aloud because it rhymes, and the animals gathering in the warm den, building a fire, and eating a plethora of snacks while the snow flies outside makes you want to snuggle on your cozy couch in front of your own roaring fire (if you’re lucky enough to have one).
By Nicola Smee
Good for very young listeners, Jingle Jingle is a fun winter tale–with very simple, wintry illustrations in mostly blue and white–in which some farm animals go for a sleigh ride, egg on the horse pulling the sleigh to go faster and faster, and eventually fly off and land in the snow. There is a moment of tension– are they hurt? What happened?! The horse feels terrible!–and then it is revealed that it was so fun they’d like to do it again.
Wolf in the Snow
By Matthew Cordell
This book tells the powerful story of a gender-neutral child (the third one in this list clad in a hooded red coat!) who becomes lost in the snow. The scratchy illustrations won the Caldecott Medal last year, and with good reason; the book is nearly wordless, and the pictures tell the story. A wordless book allows the opportunity for collaborative storytelling between adult and child and increases attentiveness to visual clues. The story is intense and showcases some of winter’s dark side, but don’t worry–there’s a happy ending.
By Jan Brett
Brett is a master of extremely detailed, meticulous illustrations, including borders around the main illustration that ingeniously advance the narrative by showing what is happening to characters currently “backstage.” This is what makes her books such great lap-sitting read-alouds–there is a lot of detail on which to feast the eyes. This book is a retelling of the “Gingerbread Man” story with a cool last page that folds out to make a huge spread. (Almost all of Brett’s many books are Scandinavian-inspired and winter-focused. Try also Trouble with Trolls, Annie and the Wild Animals, Gingerbread Baby, and The Three Snow Bears.)
By Jane Yolen
Like many other winter picture books, Owl Moon creates a mood of quiet stillness, reverence, peace, and awe inspired by the snowy landscape. In this book, a father and daughter go on a winter nighttime walk to listen for owls. This book will basically make your heart swell with its gentle story about the bond between a father and daughter and their bond with the natural world.
Over and Under the Snow
By Kate Messner
This unique book demonstrates what happens to plants and animals during the winter both above- and underground. The pages are delineated across the middle so we get a sliced-open view of the action. While the world above seems hushed and still and a girl cross-country skis through the forest, she sees hints that the world below is in fact teeming with action as animals like squirrels, bees, and frogs survive through the winter.
By Jonathan Bean
A little boy anticipates the arrival of the “big snow” while spending a long day cooped up inside at home. He is supposed to be helping his mother around the house but instead makes “snowstorms” out of sheets, soapsuds, and flour. Scenes of the storm building outside are contrasted with the cozy domestic scenes indoors. When the big snow finally arrives, the little boy’s excitement and wonder are infectious. Bubbly pastel illustrations add to the exuberance of the narrative. (I love Bean’s books and have to give a shout-out to “Building Our House,” about his parents building their house from scratch in order to “live off the land” in the 70s, and “This is My Home, This is My School” about his family’s homeschooling routine when he was a child.)
Tracks in the Snow
By Wong Herbert Yee
This is a sweet book that highlights the transformation snow makes on the usual landscape, especially when one wakes to find snow has transformed the world overnight while we slept, along with the pleasure one can take in the snow when we know we have a cozy home to come back to. A gender-neutral child bundled in winter gear trundles through the snow in search of the source of tracks visible in the white powder–with a mild surprise ending!
Ride the Big Machines in Winter
By Carmen Mok
For those toddlers who are transportation enthusiasts, this book puts a wintry spin on the big-machinery love. A little boy drives a snowplow, salt truck, and dogsled, among other winter-specific vehicles.
By Uri Shulevitz
Though many winter books are quiet, gentle stories, Shulevitz’s Snow manages to combine those qualities along with humor. Stuffy, stodgy grown-ups repeatedly scoff at or ignore the snowflakes that mark the beginning of a full-on snowstorm, while a little boy’s excitement builds–only he believes that the flakes will amount to anything. The illustrations add to the humor, with surreal stretched-out proportions and skewed perspectives.
Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter
By Kenard Pak
In beautiful watercolor illustrations, a pair of children walk through the pages of this book, moving from fall and its Technicolor trees to winter white. The children encounter various animals and natural elements, and the book’s text describes what they are doing during this time to prepare for winter. An unusual book in that it deals specifically with the transition from one season to another, and did I mention the illustrations are gorgeous?
Hanna’s Cold Winter
By Trish Marx
A longer book that is a good choice for older audiences, from kindergarten through third grade. This is a picture book that describes real historical events, when the citizens of Budapest banded together to save the hippos in their city’s zoo from starvation during World War II (even though the humans were struggling to eat themselves). Learning a slice of little-known history together with your child through a picture book is always a gift!
Malaika’s Winter Carnival
By Nadia L. Hohn
This book is written in a blend of English and Caribbean patois, and tells the story of a newly-blended family making the move to Canada from the Caribbean. Colorful collage illustrations depict Malaika’s uncertainty at navigating her new home and culture (this Winter Carnival is nothing like the Carnival at home in the Caribbean!), but ties to her homeland and family are warmly highlighted in making her transition to a new place a successful one.
Winter is Here
By Kevin Henkes
A brand-new book from beloved children’s author Henkes, Winter is Here highlights the contradictions of winter: it’s quiet (snow falling) and loud (snowplows rumbling); it’s soft (snow again) and hard (ice on the pond); it’s outside (snow, yet again) and inside (when you track snow in on your boots); etc. Also cute are the endpapers covered with a motif of colorful mittens, the page about how long it takes to get ready to go outside in winter, and how long winter seems to stay!