Review of Once upon a Winter Day

Once upon a Winter Day
by Liza Woodruff; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Ferguson/Holiday    40 pp.    g
11/20    978-0-8234-4099-3    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-8234-4404-5    $10.99

Milo’s mother is too busy to read him a story, so the boy reluctantly heads out to play in the snow. Under the bird feeder near their house, he sees the footprints of a mouse and follows them. He stops at a winterberry, notices that its berries are all gone, and finds a single feather atop the shrub (“What had happened here?”). Following the footprints into the forest, he sees branches from a hemlock tree on the ground (“Why have they fallen like autumn leaves?”). By the time his mother calls him in for dinner, Milo has found loose clods of dirt (perhaps animals were digging for acorns), mysterious smooth runs in the snow leading down to a creek, a spot where the mouse’s footprints were disturbed (“Had the bird calling in the distance swooped to the snow?”), and finally a small hole in the ground leading, he posits, to the mouse’s home. Back in his own home, Milo’s mother offers to read him some stories after dinner, but Milo refuses: “‘This time,’ he said, ‘I have stories for you.’” Words and pictures work together to tell a taut and just-right-for-the-audience suspenseful tale. Mixed-media illustrations evoke the majesty of the wintry landscape but keep the focus on Milo’s — and the mouse’s — small journey. Young viewers will enjoy doing some noticing of their own: details such as a berry dropped by a cedar waxwing that the mouse brings back to its mate make the book even more satisfying. Endpapers label all the creatures featured — and even there, viewers may have to look closely to find them all.

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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