A pleasant result of reading children’s books out loud for 10 years as an elementary school media specialist is that many books and their characters are in my memory as much as flesh and blood people I have known. When you read these simple stories over and over, whether to your own children or to a class of young faces, they become part of you. Our beautiful snow today got me to thinking about some of my favorite winter books that I read many times.
At the beginning of each January, I would read the little book “Chicken Soup with Rice” by Maurice Sendak to the kindergartners. Each month of the year is portrayed with a silly rhyme having to do with how much the narrator loves chicken soup with rice. He eats chicken soup while ice skating, underwater, as a bird and as a whale. In August he gets so hot he turns into a pot of soup. The children always loved the lilting rhyme and would often point out that a certain month was “their” month, meaning it was their birthday month. I am kind of that way too. February is my month.
Of course, I would have to point out that a snowman couldn’t eat hot soup, he would melt! How silly! And he had better watch out for the candle on his birthday cake! I secretly liked the fact that “my month” had birthday cake in it.
Often the unspoken humor in a children’s book is lost on the children. One of those is by Robert Munsch, called “Thomas’s Snowsuit”. Thomas is not a very nice little boy and when his mother tries to get him to put on his snowsuit to go to school, he refuses. She has to literally man-handle him into it, leaving the house turned upside down. He goes to school and recess comes around and he tells his teacher that he will not put on his snowsuit. The teacher calls in the principal, who demands that he put on the snowsuit. Somehow as the three of them struggle to get Thomas in his snowsuit, the classroom is wrecked, they all end up in different clothes and Thomas is still not in his snowsuit – and thinking that the whole situation is hilarious:
After this, the principal decides he does not ever want to argue with a child over a snowsuit and retires to Arizona. Now I am not a fan of books like these where the child is a smart aleck and the adults are seen as being not very smart, but anyone who has worked in a school or been around children for very long can relate to this principal! I can think of many times I would have loved to turn in my resignation and taken off for the beach!
One of my favorites, with sweet children, is “Mrs. Toggle’s Zipper”, by Robin Pulver. The children in this book live in a cold climate where they are used to wearing boots, hats, gloves, scarves and coats to school. They come into their classroom one morning and find their teacher, Mrs. Toggle, sweating in her bright fuchsia “puffy” coat. Her zipper is stuck and the children try to help her with a solution for getting out of it. After questioning her, the conclusion is made that part of the problem is that Mrs. Toggle is missing her “thingamajig” – the pull tab for her zipper. And although they are very sorry about Mrs. Toggle’s dilemma, they all think “happily about their own coats hanging on hooks with their zippers open and the thingamajigs still on them.” I sometimes feel like those children when I hear about something bad that has happened – I am sympathetic, but deep down I am thinking that I am glad it is not me. I feel a little guilty about it, but I also figure one day it will be my turn, and I hope I have some folks around me as concerned as Mrs. Toggle’s class when I am in trouble! I think about Mrs. Toggle whenever my zipper gets stuck.
By the way, the friendly custodian at the school finally latches onto the “thingamajig” on Mrs. Toggle’s zipper with a pair of needle nose pliers and releases her from her coat, teaching the important lesson that a man with a good set of tools is the one to go to with a problem!
What are your favorite winter children’s books?