________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 11 . . . . January 23, 2009

cover The Winter Book.

Rotraut Susanne Berner.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2008.
80 pp., hardcover, $25.00.
ISBN 978-0-88899-900-9.

Subject Heading:
Winter-Literary collections-Juvenile literature.

Kindergarten and up / Ages 5 and up.

Review by Valerie Nielsen.

*** /4

Award-winning German illustrator and graphic designer Rotraut Susanne Berner has served readers up a nourishing literary stew in The Winter Book. This brief hardcover collection of poems, traditional rhymes, stories, songs and recipes is, as the forward promises, " a rich multicultural treasury." Berner's sprightly illustrations infused with sly humor grace every page.

internal art

     The Winter Book consists of four sections, each one organized around the festival or festivals celebrated in that part of winter. The first section, "O Wind, A-Blowing all Day Long/O Wind That Sings So Loud a Song!" is dedicated to the onset of the dark season and includes the story of Halloween, Edgar Alan Poe's The Raven, Joseph Jacob's perfect-for-scaring-little-ones story "King o' the Cats" and finishes with a Diwali story and recipe.

     The second section of the collection, entitled "The North Wind Does Blow and We Shall Have Snow," features Matt Cohen's memory of visiting his grandparents at Hanukkah and learning the exciting history of this holiday. In Part three of the collection, "Christmas is Coming the Geese are Getting Fat," Christmas songs, the nativity story and Kwanzaa are highlighted. An outstanding story in this section is Dino Buzzati's satiric little nugget entitled "Too Much Christmas." Unfortunately, this clever critique of our modern way of celebrating Christmas is unlikely to be properly understood or appreciated by young listeners. The same might be said of another gem — this one by Alberto Moravia — which appears in the last section of The Winter Book ("If Winter Comes Can Spring be Far Behind?") entitled "When Thoughts Froze in the Air." Adults will chuckle at this philosophic little piece while it floats over the heads of the younger set.

     Chinese New Year, Groundhog Day and love poems for Valentine's Day fill the final pages of this last section of The Winter Book, with William Blake's "Spring" and Henry David Thoreau's tribute to the wood frog bringing the volume to a close.

     Although the quality of the literature appearing in The Winter Book is very high, it is somewhat difficult to determine the audience for which the collection is intended. Certainly, there are many selections which would be interesting and/or fun to share with young listeners. The problem with such a grouping, however, is that the amount of sophistication and attention span needed to enjoy the selections varies wildly. There is no doubt that readers of all ages will thoroughly enjoy Berner's clever and colorful illustrations, and there is a good chance that elementary school librarians will find The Winter Book a useful addition to the section on holidays and festivals. As a gift, it would be best given to a family with children of varying ages. The giver can be sure that the sturdiness and attractiveness of the volume will ensure its being treasured for a good many years.


A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.

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