Monthly Archives: December 2012

Cozy Winter Reads


© Copyright Martin Rankin and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

My favorite thing to do in winter is snuggle up in front of the fireplace with a blanket, some hot cocoa, and a good book.  My second favorite thing to do is snuggle up in front of a window with a blanket, some hot cocoa, and a good book–maybe two blankets, since it gets awfully cold next to my windows.

I  believe reading a book with a winter setting is best done with a blanket and hot cocoa, too.  So grab yours and curl up with one of these dozen wintry reads for kids ages 8-12 (or for the 8-12-year-old at heart):


Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident by Eoin Colfer

Description: Artemis Fowl receives an urgent e-mail from Russia. In it is a plea from a man who has been kidnapped by the Russian Mafiya: his father. As Artemis rushes to his rescue, he is stopped by a familiar nemesis, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit. Now, instead of battling the fairies, Artemis must join forces with them if he wants to save one of the few people in the world he loves.


Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Description: Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. But that was before he stopped talking to her and disappeared into a forest with a mysterious woman made of ice. Now it’s up to Hazel to go in after him. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.


Brian’s Winter by Gary Paulsen

Description: In Hatchet, 13-year-old Brian Robeson learned to survive alone in the Canadian wilderness, armed only with his hatchet. He was rescued at the end of the summer. Brian’s Winter begins where Hatchet might have ended: Brian is not rescued, but must build on his survival skills to face his deadliest enemy–a northern winter.


Dear America: The Winter of Red Snow by Kristiana Gregory

Description: Eleven-year-old Abigail Jane Stewart’s fictionalized diary about her life, family, friends, and neighbors, and the sides they have to choose in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, during the height of the Revolutionary War, renders a vivid portrayal of one of the most memorable and crucial winters in American history.

Abby’s life with her family is quickly upended when they are awakened by the unfamiliar sound of drums. General George Washington is leading the Continental soldiers into their winter encampment at Valley Forge, PA.


Dogsled Dreams by Terry Lynn Johnson

Description: Twelve-year-old Rebecca dreams of becoming a famous dog-sled racer. She’s an inventive but self-doubting musher who tackles blinding blizzards, wild animal attacks, puppy training, and flying poo missiles. All of her challenges seem easier than living up to the dogs’ trust in her abilities.



Icefall by Matthew Kirby

Description: Trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen sea, Solveig, along with her brother the crown prince, their older sister, and an army of restless warriors, anxiously awaits news of her father’s victory at battle. But as winter stretches on, and the unending ice refuses to break, terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst. A malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, as a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another.


Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

Description: To her small Eskimo village, she is known as Miyax; to her friend in San Francisco, she is Julie. When her life in the village becomes dangerous, Miyax runs away, only to find herself lost in the Alaskan wilderness.

Without food and time running out, Miyax tries to survive by copying the ways of a pack of wolves. Accepted by their leader and befriended by a feisty pup named Kapu, she soon grows to love her new wolf family. Life in the wilderness is a struggle, but when she finds her way back to civilization, Miyax is torn between her old a new lives. Is she Miyax of the Eskimos — or Julie of the wolves?


The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

Description: They open a door and enter a world. NARNIA … the land beyond the wardrobe, the secret country known only to Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy … the place where the adventure begins. Lucy is the first to find the secret of the wardrobe in the Professor’s mysterious old house. At first, no one believes her when she tells of her adventures in the land of Narnia. But soon Edmund and then Peter and Susan discover the magic and meet Aslan, the Great Lion, for themselves. In the blink of an eye, their lives are changed forever.


The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Description: The adventures of Laura Ingalls and her family continue as Pa, Ma, Laura, Mary, Carrie, and little Grace bravely face the hard winter of 1880-81 in their little house in the Dakota Territory. Blizzards cover the little town with snow, cutting off all supplies from the outside. Soon there is almost no food left, so young Almanzo Wilder and a friend make a dangerous trip across the prairie to find some wheat. Finally a joyous Christmas is celebrated in a very unusual way in this most exciting of all the Little House books.


Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan

Description on back of book: Peter Lunstrom never thought he would become a hero. But that bleak winter of 1940 was like no other. Nazi troops parachuted into Peter’s tiny village and held it captive. nobody thought they could be defeated–until Uncle Victor told Peter how the children of the village could fool the enemy.

It was a dangerous plan. Peter and his friends had to slip past Nazi guards with nine million dollars in gold hidden on their sleds. It meant risking their country’s treasure–and their lives.


Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin; illustrated by Mary Azarian

Description from jacket flap: Snow in Vermont is as common as dirt. Why would anyone want to photograph it? But from the time he was a small boy, Wilson Bentley thinks of the icy crystals as small miracles, and he determines that one day his camera will capture for others their extraordinary beauty.

Often misunderstood in his time, Wilson Bentley took pictures that even today reveal two important truths about snowflakes: first, that no two are alike, and second, that each one is startlingly beautiful. His story, gracefully told by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and brought to life in Mary Azarian’s lovely woodcuts, gives children insight into the soul who had not only a scientist’s vision and perseverance, but a clear passion for the wonders of nature.


Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner

Description: For Claire Boucher, life is all about skating on the frozen cow pond and working at her family’s maple farm. But when a professional skating coach offers Claire a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to train with the elite skaters in Lake Placid, she’s tossed into a competitive world of mean girls on ice. Can Claire find the strength to stand up to those who want her to fail?



If you know of other books where winter plays a prominent (or not so prominent) roll, please share them with us in the comments below.  Enjoy your winter reading, and don’t forget the cocoa!

(NOTE: All descriptions are by Indiebound unless otherwise noted.)

Elissa Cruz has a fireplace and several great picture windows in her house. In winter you can usually find her in front of one of them, reading and writing books for middle-grade kids. For more on her mixed-up writing life, you can visit her website at or her blog at

A Holiday Message to You


The Reading Family

I recently wrote an article for the Hornbook Magazine for their Books in the Home column. It was about whether or not to allow younger siblings to read YA books alongside their older siblings, and what I’ve learned in the process of raising four avid readers. If you are interested the article is on line here.

The article was part of a larger conversation I’ve been having with colleagues about the social dimension of reading and how often it gets overlooked in schools that must be curriculum driven in every minute of the day, somewhat to the detriment of developing avid readers in my opinion. But since I can’t change national education policy, I’ve tried to focus on what I can, the reading that happens in my own home. There was an era before screens were the dominant entertainment source in a home, when reading aloud was as common as a sing-along for family entertainment. Sadly it’s not possible to recreate this environment. With ever widening cell phone coverage and ever smarter phones, you can down load a movie or video game to your phone even in the wilderness.
When my kids were younger it wasn’t hard to read aloud to them. They were eager to unwind with a book and my undivided attention. But toward the later years of grade school and into middle school, our reading together time seemed to shrink as other pursuits grew. Sports, music, homework, and my own writing deadlines ate into our family time in the evening and finding books we wanted to share became harder as well. And yet I missed it. We all did.
So just as my oldest was entering high school we started a new tradition, the Christmas read aloud. I’d pick a book I thought we’d all like, and read it aloud over the 12 days of Christmas. Most of the 12 days fell on vacation so the usual distractions were less. Curling up, all six of us with cocoa and popcorn and pillows and blankets was more appealing in the winter. It’s become a holiday tradition we treasure, although picking the holiday book is always tricky given the diverging interests of a house full of teenagers. Here are three books we’ve enjoyed as family reads over the years.
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth Jr.
This is the biography of the Gilbreth  family in the 1920s. Because my husband is also one of twelve children, my kids loved hearing the exploits of this household of fourteen. It was at times side-splittingly funny but also warm and tender as you see two strong willed parents who adore each other struggling to do right but their many and mischievous children.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
This story has been in so many filmed version that it is easy to forget just how well the original unabridged version was written. Concrete proof that you can marry gorgeous lyrical and leisurly prose with rip roaring action.
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
It helps to be a fan of British humor but if you’ve got a houseful of Monty Python fans here’s a book that takes all the fun of British television and gives it an interesting, fast-paced and discussion worthy plot. We adored the bad smelling and unapologetically violent Nac Mac Feegle from their tangled red noggins to their grubby blue feet.
This coming year we’re going to try something new, the shared reading of a play in which everybody gets a part. It will take a little coordination in highlighting the scripts so everybody can keep track of their part. I’m very much looking forward to it. Our first attempt will be Cyrano de Burgerac by Edmond Rostand. We might even have to pull out the nerf swords for a semi-staged reading.
Have you got favorite family read alouds that work with middle grade kids and older? I’d love to get your recommendations in the comments.