Groundhog Day (& Other Books About the Weather)
January 29, 2014 § 3 Comments
My six year old doesn’t understand why Groundhog Day isn’t a school holiday. I tried to explain that, with February 2 being a Sunday this year, it’s sort of a moot point. “But it’s not always on a weekend, Mommy.” So then I tried to explain that the government only picks a few of the most important people in our history (ahem, George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr.) to honor with a school holiday—and that contrary to what he might think with ALL THESE SNOW DAYS, kids are supposed to be IN SCHOOL, learning stuff that their parents don’t have the patience to teach them. “Well, Punxsutawney Phil IS very important because he can PREDICT THE WEATHER.” This is a fair, if debatable, point.
The children’s books on the subject of this Very Important Holiday tend to be either factually straightforward (Gail Gibbons’ Groundhog Day! is usually the teacher’s favorite) or purely fictional (read: silly and unhelpful). But this year, I stumbled upon a find that combines fact, fiction, and An All-Around Good Time: a book titled Groundhog Weather School: Fun Facts About Weather and Groundhogs (Ages 5-9), by Joan Holub, with illustrations by Kristin Sorra. This is precisely the type of book I knew JP would enjoy reading by himself (and, as parents of newly independent readers know, we’re always on the hunt for “that book”).
Sure enough, we had a winner within minutes. The appeal is threefold. First, the book’s factual content is embedded beneath layers of humor, as groundhogs (and one skunk) enroll in Weather School, where they study things like “GeHOGraphy”; learn about famous weather scientists (like the guy who figured out how to measure the wind speed inside a tornado); and perform in a play titled “The Reasons for Seasons.”
Secondly, the book’s non-traditional layout means that each page has stand-alone appeal. Kids can open to any page and dive right in. JP gets easily intimidated by large blocks of text that repeat on every page; but here, the text takes the form of speech bubbles, comic strips, letters, surveys, maps, sketches, and timelines. One is more entertaining than the next.
Lastly—and perhaps it’s unavoidable that I should succumb to buying a book about Groundhog Day—there’s the subject of weather itself, which is a source of constant fascination, bordering on paranoia, for my son. “Do you think it’s going to storm?” “How do you know it’s not going to storm?” “And anyway, you can’t know for sure, Mommy, because even the weather people don’t know for sure.” I can’t get two steps out our front door before I am forced into a conversation about clouds or wind or how “the temperature is dropping—they might close the schools again!” Over the years, I have tried to empower JP (read: quell his anxiety) by reading to him about weather phenomena (see list below). But it’s precisely the mystery of it all—no one knows for sure what’s coming—that most peaks his curiosity. Even the groundhog forecasters, as Groundhog Weather School tells us, are only right about a third of the time. And yet, watching the hibernation patterns of animals has its roots in Ancient Civilizations, when farmers would watch for the appearance of badgers and bears to gauge a good time to begin spring planting. Ultimately, there’s something hopeful about tuning in this Sunday to watch Punxsutawney Phil emerge from his burrow. Whether he sees his shadow or not, our calendar tells us we’re halfway to spring—and that’s a fact. And a reason to celebrate. Just please let’s keep the schools open.
Other Favorites With Facts About the Weather:
Can You Say What’s the Weather Today?: All About Weather (Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library), Tish Rabe (Ages 4-8)
What Will the Weather Be?, by Lynda DeWitt & Carolyn Croll; Clouds, by Anne Rockwell; Feel the Wind, by Arthur Dorros; Down Comes the Rain, Flash Crash Rumble and Roll, and Sunshine Makes the Seasons, both by Franklyn Branley (all part of the fantastic Let’s Read and Find Out Science series, Ages 4-8)
National Geographic Kids Everything Weather: Facts, Photos, and Fun That Will Blow You Away, Kathy Furgang (Ages 6-12)