Winter Folklore and Fairy Tales

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Winter Folklore and Fairy Tales

Winter has always been a difficult time of the year for me. It’s cold, it’s dreary, and when is the last time that I’ve seen the sun instead of gray skies? To me the only saving grace of winter is the holidays that occur during the season. The holiday spirit of giving, sharing, and caring brings joy to my heart.

In this collection of charming and enchanting winter folklore and fairy tale picture books, both adults and children will find the holiday spirit. These books cover a wide range of topics including the winter solstice, the secular aspect of Christmas, the holiday spirit, and just winter itself.

Lucia and the Light by Phyllis Root
Inspired by a Norse folk tale, our brave young heroine, Lucia, ventures out on a cold dark lightless night to find the sun and bring it back to the world. The situation in her home is dire, as the cow will not give milk anymore, and the fire no longer heats the house or bakes the bread. She leaves on her journey taking only her tinderbox and white cat. Together, she and her cat face the menacing trolls and rescue the sun by outsmarting and outmaneuvering them. When the sun is released and up in the sky, all is well again.

The Longest Night by Marion Dane Bauer
The story starts in a snowy forest on a dark and cold night. The wind whines, “cold and dark now rule!” Which of the animals will bring back the sun? Will it be the crow, the moose, or the fox? None of these animals will bring back the sun -- but the chickadee will. The other animals express their shock and disbelief, but the wind tells the chickadee “only you.” The chickadee knows that “she can’t fly all the way to the sun” and that “her beak isn’t strong enough to poke it awake.” So she sings her song: “dee-dee-dee and dee and dee and dee again.” The sun wakens to the sound of her song and floods the world with light.

The Spider’s Gift retold by Eric A. Kimmel
In this Christmas story that is based on an Ukrainian folktale, Katrusya is devastated to hear that her family cannot afford to celebrate Christmas this year. She begs her family to at least get a tree. Grandfather and Katrusya go to the forest and select a beautiful fir tree. However, when they get the tree inside they discover that spider eggs are inside the tree and that they have hatched! The tree is covered with baby spiders! Katrusya’s mother insists that the tree be taken outside because she won’t have spiders in her house. Katrusya begs for the small and helpless spiders to stay inside the tree in the house because otherwise they will die and freeze in the cold. Katrusya’s generosity is rewarded when she and her family come back from church and the spider webs have turned into real silver! The author notes that this story appears in similar versions throughout central and eastern Europe. As she notes, “It has a special significance for Ukrainians who revere the spider as a model of diligence and modesty. Ukrainian Christmas customs are ancient. Their roots lie in the winter solstice celebrations of the earliest Slavic peoples."

The Miracle of the First Poinsettia: A Mexican Christmas Story by Joanne Oppenhiem
This is a charming and inspirational retelling of an old Mexican legend about the fact that “a gift from the heart is the best gift of all.” It is Christmas Eve in Mexico, and Juanita is upset because she cannot buy Christmas gifts for her family and she does not have anything to place before the altar of Baby Jesus. Her father does not have a job and there is no extra money to be had. When it is time for the family to go to church, Juanita tells her mother that she cannot go because she has no gifts -- both for her family and for the Baby Jesus. Her mother tells her that “there are no greater gifts than the ones you bring in your heart.” Juanita goes with her family to church but refuses to go inside. A stone angel statue speaks to Juanita and tells Juanita to “Pick the leaves (green weeds) and take them into church.” When she does, the leaves are transformed into beautiful red poinsettias, and Juanita remembers what the angel told her: “Don’t worry about how the weeds look to you. To the Baby Jesus they will not look like weeds. He will know they are a gift from your heart!”

Pine and the Winter Sparrow retold by Alexis York Lumbard
In this heartwarming retelling of a Cherokee tale, we find out why pine trees keep their green leaves throughout winter while the rest of the trees do not. Sparrow greets his Creator with a joyful song each and every morning even when he has injured his wing. He tells his family to fly south in autumn without him and that they will meet again in the spring. Although he is scared, shivering, and weak, he still manages to fly to Oak, Maple, Elm, and Aspen to ask for shelter and protection and only gets abrupt and sharp refusals in return. When Pine finds Sparrow sobbing beneath him, he asks him what is bothering him and offers to give him shelter: “If you don’t mind my sticky branches and my needle-sharp leaves, then all that I am and all that I have is yours.” Sparrow has safe shelter throughout the winter, his family flies back and rejoins him in the spring, and the Creator rewards Pine with the ability to remain “evergreen evermore.” 

The Mitten by Jan Brett
In this Ukrainian folktale, a young boy named Nicki asks his grandmother to make him white wool mittens. At first his grandmother refuses and tells him that if he drops one of his mittens in the snow, he will never be able to find it. But he persists, and she gives in. Sure enough, he loses one of his mittens the very first time he wears them. The way the various animals in the tale find and use the mitten caused me to laugh out loud. Can a mole, a rabbit, a hedgehog, an owl, a badger, a fox, a bear, and mouse fit all together in one mitten? Is it even possible? Is there any way Nicki will find his mitten or for that matter even notice that one of his mittens is missing? The conclusion of this tale answers all of these questions satisfactorily.  

Here Comes Jack Frost by Kazuno Kohara
According to Scandinavian legend, Jack Frost is the son of the god of the winds who brings frost. He was variously named Jokul and Frosti, the first name meaning "icicle" and the latter "frost." Eventually the two names were combined in English to become the folk character "Jack Frost." In this story, a young boy who hates winter notices strange patterns on his window and is befriended by none other than Jack Frost himself. He follows Jack Frost into the woods and asks him, “Will you stay and play with me?” Jack Frost replies that he can but tells the boy to “never mention anything warm in front of me … that would break the spell and force me to leave.” The boy and Jack Frost have a snowball fight, go sledding together, and build two snow people and a snow dog. One day the boy notices a snowdrop and tells Jack Frost that it is almost Spring. Jack Frost vanishes, but the boy hears a whisper, “see you next winter!” 

The Wish Tree by Kyo Maclear
In this charming story a boy named Charles, and his sled, Boggan, set off in search of a wish tree even though his brother and sister said  “there is no such thing.” Along the way, they encounter a squirrel that needs help getting hazelnuts to his home, a beaver who needs help getting birch wood to his lodge, and a fox who needs help getting berries to her burrow. Charles and Boggan haul all of the items that these animals need to their homes. At this point half the day has passed and “we may need to move a little faster, Boggan,” says Charles. Charles is tired and cannot search any longer, but Bear pulls Boggan while Charles falls asleep. When Charles wakes up, he finds a beautiful white winter tree, and all of the animals that he has helped that day have put together a night feast for him featuring such goodies as hazelnut soufflé, a pot of birch tea, and biscuits made of berries.  

Is That You Winter? by Stephen Gammel
Old Man Winter, otherwise known as Jack Frost, wakes up grumpy. He manages to find his hat and drive off in a truck. He lets loose his icy blast and cold wind. “Who do I make it snow for?” he wonders as he stops for lunch, tries to walk in the snow, and tumbles to the ground. In an interesting plot twist, we discover that Old Man Winter is just a girl’s doll. The girl rescues her doll and doesn’t care that the other children call him “ratty” and “falling apart." She declares that her doll makes it snow for her.  

The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson
In this fairy tale, Kay is stolen away by the Snow Queen, a beautiful glittering queen who is made of ice. Gerda, Kay’s friend, sets out on a long and arduous journey to find Kay. She stays with an old woman who has an enchanted flower garden, goes to a palace to see if the prince is Kay, convinces a girl who robs and steals to part with her flying reindeer, and finally rescues Kay from the Snow Queen’s palace. When they finally arrive home at Grandmother’s house, they are adults, and it is now a warm and delightful summer.