Introduction to Snow (Peter McCarty Style)
January 22, 2015 § 6 Comments
On our first snowfall of the year, my seven year old was out the door after taking his last bite of oatmeal. My four year old, never wanting to be but a second behind her brother, yelled at the slamming door, “I’m coming, too!” Then, she took careful inventory of the pile of last year’s snow pants and snow boots and waterproof mittens, which I had tossed down from the top of the closet.
“Mommy, I don’t know if I remember.”
“Here, I’ll help you,” I offered, and I showed her which way to zip up the snow pant overalls and how to wedge her little feet down into the bulky snow boots.
“My feet feel funny. They feel like they’re standing on air,” she said.
I opened the door, felt the snowy wet wind barrel down the front of my pajamas and did a quick parental, “Off you go,” my hand nudging her back.
“Mommy, I don’t know if I remember,” she said again, staring at the two inches of powder on the ground.
“I need to close the door, honey, but you’ll be OK. I think JP has gone around to the back, so you’ll find him there. Have fun!” (Gosh, we sound so annoying sometimes, don’t we?)
The door closed behind her, and I watched from the window as she stood, frozen in place, for several moments on the porch, my little girl somewhere inside the puffy layers of down and nylon. At last, she stepped off the landing and began to take tentative, stiff-legged steps into the cold, white-covered world, slowly making her way around the front of the house in search of her brother.
And it hit me. At four, there are times when my Emily seems so grown up, prattling on about what she did at school, using words like “actually” and “unfortunately,” or walking into a restaurant and reminding me where we sat a year ago when we were last there. Last winter, for the first time since moving to Virginia, we had several legitimate (!) snow days. We went skiing. We went sledding. We built snowmen. And then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over.
Emily remembers doing those things. But does she really remember what it felt like? Can I, for just one second, put myself inside her heavy pink boots, lose my hands inside her pillowy mittens, and imagine how alien the snow must seem? How abrasive the cold and wet feels on her nose, on her little cheeks? How unsure she must be, setting up to take those first steps, wondering if she’ll sink into the snow and just keep going down?
A few days later, I purchased First Snow, the newest picture book by one of my favorite author-illustrators: the evocative, the subtle, the genius ink-wielding Peter McCarty. McCarty won the 2007 Caldecott for Hondo and Fabian, although he won my heart a year earlier with his stirring, perfectly composed Moon Plane, about a little boy gazing up at an airplane and imagining what it would feel like to be up in the sky (still one of my favorite picture books EVER). But McCarty may perhaps best be known these days for his anthropomorphic animal stories, starring a cat named Henry and a bunny named Chloe, who first appear in Henry in Love (perfect for approaching Valentine’s Day).
Henry and Chloe make cameo appearances in McCarty’s newest book. Only now, with his signature shaded ink sketches atop rich creamy paper, and his talent for choosing only the bare minimum of words to express human emotion, McCarty takes on the subject of snow—specifically, an anthropomorphic dog named Pedro’s first encounter with the white stuff. Pedro, presumably raised in a tropical climate, comes to visit his cousins Sancho, Bella, Lola, Ava, and Maria in their wintery home (I love the purposeful inclusion of a Hispanic family here).
On Pedro’s first morning in his new environment, the cousins storm into his room to announce that it has snowed all night. “‘Put on your boots! Put on your coats! Put on your hat and mittens! We are going outside!’”
“I have never seen snow. I don’t think I will like it,” said Pedro.
“Because it is cold. And I don’t like cold.”
The skeptical Pedro is dragged outside by his enthusiastic, bundled-up cousins, who advise him to move around to stay warm, and then show him how to make snow angels and catch snowflakes on his tongue. Reluctant Pedro is having nothing of it. “It tastes cold,” he says. In typical McCarty style, most of the book’s narrative is told through these short, conversational exchanges. The child reader is left, in the pauses that follow and the details of the illustrations, to draw his own conclusions about the characters’ motives and feelings.
When the cousins meet up with the other neighborhood kids (enter Henry and Chloe and their siblings), the group escorts Pedro to the top of the hill for some sledding.
“Why do you go up?” asked Pedro.
“To go back down,” said Henry.
(Can you think of a simpler exchange between two children that more perfectly captures the innocence, the bafflement, the wonder of beholding snow play for the first time?)
The first time I shared this story with my daughter, as we watched Pedro fly down the sledding hill, Emily literally grabbed my arm. Outwardly, she was squealing with laughter, but her firm grip suggested that she was also feeling some of Pedro’s fear. After all, as evidenced the other day, she knows firsthand the uncertainly of venturing into snow-covered territory.
As Pedro hits a bump and flies off his saucer, we as readers brace ourselves for the worst. Then, we catch the smile on his face, a smile that widens when—finally surrendering to the wet and the cold—he rolls around where he has landed and begins throwing snowballs at the others. Some invisible line has been crossed. We can all breathe more easily now.
Pedro reminds us that firsts are never easy. As we parents sometimes forget, seconds and thirds can be pretty scary, too. The world outside our front doors is vast and changing. It’s going to be a great ride, but sometimes we need to take our time getting there.
Other Favorite Picture Books Written & Illustrated by Peter McCarty:
Moon Plane (Ages 1-4)
Hondo and Fabian (Ages 2-5)
Fabian Escapes (Ages 2-5)
T is for Terrible (Ages 3-6)
Jeremy Draws a Monster (Ages 3-6)
The Monster Returns (Ages 3-6)
Henry in Love (Ages 4-8)
Chloe (Ages 4-8)
For a list of other fantastic stories about snow, check out this post with its long list at the end!
All opinions are my own. Amazon.com affiliate links support my book-buying habit and contribute to my being able to share more great books with you–although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!