Growing Reader

It Isn’t Winter Without Our Favorite Jan Brett Books

by Lindsay Barrett

Background credit: Rastko Belic, EyeEm Colletion/Getty Images

When the first dusting of snow rolled in for us this year, my kids couldn’t get outside fast enough. My third son desperately raced to pull on his hand-me-down snowsuit, distinctive to me because of the memories it sparked of both his brothers struggling into it in just the same way. Each season unfolds with its own familiar actions and traditions that say, “We’ve done this before.”

When everyone finally tumbles inside from playing in the snow, we tend to spend more time snuggled up reading than we do in any other season. Maybe it’s the chilly, dark afternoons, but it’s also the books. Winter books are the best, and there’s no author with more titles in our collection than Jan Brett. Filled with Scandinavian woolens, snowy landscapes, and holiday cheer, here are eight of our family’s favorites that I suspect will have many nodding in agreement.

  • Annie and the Wild Animals

    Our worn copy of this story is a relic from the 1980s childhood shelves of my sister and I. Now my kids beg me to read it just as often as we did as children. After her cat goes missing, lonely Annie makes corncakes and leaves them at the edge of the woods to attract a new animal friend. She gets more than she bargained for when the whole hungry forest comes calling. The sweet surprise ending is perfectly cozy.

  • The Mitten

    Every year, we unearth a few unmatched mittens when we haul out our winter clothes bins, prompting conversations about keeping track of our things. When Nicki loses one of the white mittens his grandmother made him, a host of winter animals get cozy inside it. My kids know this story so well they can recite it almost verbatim, and the final picture of Baba puzzling over the stretched-out mitten after Nicki finds it again always makes us chuckle.

  • The Hat

    In a continuation of the winter clothing theme, this story stars lovable Hedgie, who manages to get one of Lisa’s wool stockings stuck on his prickly head. Embarrassed, he tells the other animals it’s a hat, unknowingly starting a trend. My kids love the images of the clothesline atop each page, becoming more sparse as we keep turning, leading up to the barnyard winter woolen party at the end.

  • Gingerbread Baby

    This retelling of the classic fairy tale The Gingerbread Man, also known as The Gingerbread Boy, is one we always pull out as we get ready for holiday baking. After popping out of the oven, the clever Gingerbread Baby sets off on a fast-paced adventure around the village. Meanwhile, the side panels tell the parallel story of Matti’s masterful plan to lure him back. Warning: your kids will beg to decorate their own gingerbread house immediately after reading.

  • The Turnip

    Jan Brett's beautiful illustrations and whimsical ending bring new life to one of my favorite folktales. When Badger Girl spots a giant turnip poking out of the garden, she and her family pull and pull without success. As the snow starts to fall, they implore other animals to help before the ground freezes, again to no avail. A push below ground from some pajama-clad bears settling into their winter den finally does the trick, and Mother Badger heats up her frying pan to prepare everyone a feast. After reading this story every night for a week straight, my picky preschooler asked if we could make our own “turnip pancakes browned in butter.” (Full disclosure: He didn’t like them, but it was worth a try!)

  • The Wild Christmas Reindeer

    As the advent calendar in the side panels moves through December, Teeka tackles her newest assignment from Santa: to prepare the reindeer to fly on Christmas Eve. When her harsh approach leads to disaster, she switches tactics and promises to be gentle and patient. This story is a fitting reminder every holiday season that kindness is always the best approach — for kids and harried parents, too.

  • The Three Snow Bears

    My family loves diverse versions of fairy tales, and this one transports us directly to the Arctic tundra. When Aloo-ki happens upon a polar bear family’s igloo, she sips their bowls of soup, tries on their cozy snow boots, and naps under their fur covers. The story unfolds predictably, yet with delightful added twists. It also serves as the perfect inspiration for backyard igloo-building.

  • The Animals’ Santa

    This beautiful Christmas story is a welcome complement to our scores of Santa titles featuring the proverbial red suit and loaded sleigh. Little Snow wonders who the animals’ Santa could be, with his mysterious lack of tracks in the snow. Late at night, he gets a satisfying answer that proves Christmas magic is “truly, truly, true.” Cue the contented sigh. What more could you ask from a winter holiday story?