The first snowfall of the season is magical — covering everything in a glistening cloak so that the ordinary quickly becomes extraordinary and we exclaim over beautiful frosted trees and pristine expanses of white. Children can’t wait to hurl snowballs, build snowmen or dive to the ground and wave their arms and legs in a mad frenzy of snow-angel making. Emily Jenkins and Paul O. Zelinsky perfectly capture such excitement in “Toys Meet Snow.” We experience the toys’ wonder as they build a snowman, make snow angels, and explore their surroundings.
The toys’ distinct personalities shine from the page. Lumphy the curious buffalo wonders what snow is while StingRay the poetic plush toy makes sweeping lyrical statements (the snow is a “blanket of peace over the world”). Practical Plastic, a rubber ball, knows that snow is frozen water. Jenkin's text is spare, with occasional deft touches of humor. Zelinksy performs miracles with light and color in his captivating illustrations. On one page he overlays a soft blanket of snow with outsized detailed snowflakes; on another he uses rich hues to indicate a sunset at the end of the toys’ tiring day. Eventually, in a scene familiar to all parents of small children who have stayed too long in the snow, Lumphy and StingRay are cold and wet and the toys retreat inside the house.
My two-year-old granddaughter loves all the illustrations in this book but repeatedly returns to the spread shown above. To get outside, the toys must open the door but they can’t reach the handle. In a series of five pictures, Zelinksy shows us their struggle. After a couple of failed attempts Lumphy balances on Plastic who balances on StingRay and the buffalo finally reaches the handle. My granddaughter squeals with delight at the toys’ success. She knows what it’s like not to be big enough to reach things — their triumph is her triumph. She turns the page to see them going outside and chortles, “They did it.” She finds this part of the book so satisfying that she always wants to read this page before any other. Picture book illustrations are more than just pretty pictures and this spread is a clear example of the depth that illustrations can add to a story. The words on this page are: “And so, with no small amount of effort … ” Zelinsky turns those eight words into magic.
Snow is late in coming to Minnesota this year, but when it does we'll be re-reading Toys Meet Snow.