You walk into your first encounter with "Snowballs" with the vague sense that this is going to be yet another winter picture book containing figures made out of cut paper. And though you are well aware of Ezra Jack Keats's "The Snowy Day", you decide to give Lois Ehlert's book a go anyway. You're hoping you'll end up pleasantly surprised by what you may find. And you're in luck. You are.
In this tale of wintertime bird feeding, the author first poses a hypothetical question: "Do you think birds know when it's going to snow?". As if in answer, we view a pair of cardinals, one male and one female, as they devour some seeds. With the fall of a new snow, it's time to make some snow creatures. In a surprising two page spread we see a brown paper sack and plastic bags full of stuff. The author says that this is "good stuff" saved for this very occasion. The rest of the book then displays snowmen, women, children, pets, etc. made out of everything from strawberries to orange plastic fish. Almost every snow person has something in their make up that is delicious to the wild birds, and occasionally a brave birdy will fly into the picture to nibble on a sunflower seed necklace or munch on a popcorn laden body. At the back of the book are actual size photographs against a white background displaying objects that were featured in the snowmen's bodies earlier. Kids reading the book will enjoy trying to find the page that presented the Guatemalan purse or the Thai appliqué heart. Finally, the reader can find out more about snow itself. Two pages full of snowman photos (all goofy in their own different ways) surround a section entitled, "What makes it snow?". And for those of you that are lucky enough to be reading a hardcover edition of this tale, a recipe for popcorn balls appears on the back book flap.
Admittedly, when you get right down to it, this book is just a paper cut out book after all. But Ehlert has taken the liberty of combining your normal run-of-the-mill paper images with life sized photographs of certain objects. If you look on the cover, you'll see that the bird sitting on the snowman's head is all paper while the piece of popcorn it holds in its beak is a photograph. The result is fairly seamless. We can assume that some Photoshopping has been done here since a couple of these photographed items occasionally cast shadows on their snowpeople. This is a fairly well put together little book. It's difficult to combine stories where fun hunt and peck tales are combined with scientific facts. I'm almost tempted to categorize this book as non-fiction for all its interesting information. Even a quick glance at the back cover consists of thirteen newspaper accounts of snowy weather.
In a way, this book is like an educational "Where's Waldo?". Kids reading it will probably have more fun trying to find the objects listed in the back of the book than they will reading about water droplets and the process of evaporation. Just the same, any book that sneaks a little science into the average child's diet is a-okay by me. You may not find much in the way of plot in this item, but there's enough originality and fun packed in "Snowballs" to keep the doldrums away.