Cold Fantasy for a Hot Summer's Day -- Part 1: books for young readers

When it's hot outside (as it so often is in summer), I like to curl up with a cold, cold book. One where the snow is falling, and ice is everywhere. Here are some great cold fantasies for younger readers, 7-10 ish; books for older readers can be found in Part 2.

The Ice Dragon, by George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin is best known for his on-going adult fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. But he also wrote a very cold book for young readers--The Ice Dragon, first published in 1980, but re-issued with illustrations by Yvonne Gilbert in 2006 (107 pages).

It begins "Adara liked the winter best of all, for when the world grew cold the ice dragon came." Adara is a Winter child--her mother died giving birth to her in middle of the coldest winter her village had known. And all her life she loved winter best, building castles out of snow with her bare hands, gently holding the ice lizards, easily killed by the warm hands of the other children, but happy with her cold touch. Better still, though, was the Ice Dragon, on whose back she rides...But when the peace of Adara's cold life is shattered by war, she must turn her back on winter, and sacrifice the ice dragon to save her family.

A fairy-tale type story that makes lovely pictures in the mind's eye.

Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Brett Helquist (2009, 117 pages)

In Norway, long ago, a boy named Odd leaves home very early one cold winter morning, when it was supposed to be spring, but wasn't. There in the snowy woods he meets three animals--a fox, a bear, and an eagle--and learns that they are Norse gods, transformed by the curse of a Frost Giant. The giant has claimed Asgard, the realm of the gods, as his own, and, unless he is driven out, winter will last forever.

It's a wonderfully cold and snowy world, peopled by gods and giants, and a brave and smart boy (my review).

Moominland Midwinter, by Tove Jansson (first published in English in 1958)

My favorite winter book, no holds barred. In her earlier Moomin books, Jansson was happy to have fun--they are very Adventure driven, have a large cast of characters, and are somewhat episodic. This book, however, focuses primarily on a single character-- young Moomintroll, facing winter for the first time, while all the rest of his family sleeps. It is cold, dark, and incredibly haunting, as well as being lots of fun! This book is where the grown-up reader, who has never read any Moomin books, should start the series.

The Last Polar Bears, written and illustrated by Harry Horse (2007)

"Dear Child,
I am writing to let you know that Roo and I are well. I'm sorry I was unable to say goodbye to you properly and I hope that you can understand why I had to go on this expedition. I am going to the North Pole to find the Last Polar Bears."

All his life, the grandfather writes, he has either been too old or too young to do what he wanted to do, so with his dog Roo he has set off to find the polar bears before they are gone. In letters to his grandchild, he tells of a journey full of snow, and ice, and strangeness. This is a book that made both laugh and cry, and there are a number of bits that are very cold indeed. (my review)

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, by Joan Aiken (1963)

One bitterly cold winter's day, a young orphan named Sylvia travels by (freezing cold) train to the home of her cousin Bonnie. When she arrives at Bonnie's grand home, she is dismayed that Bonnie's parents are preparing to depart for a long voyage...and there is good reason for her trepidation. Beset by wolves and winter without, and by an evil governess within, Sylvia and Bonnie face a cold journey (literally and metaphorically) before warmer weather comes and all is well again.

What are your wintry favorites for younger readers? (I'm putting The Dark is Rising in the next post, btw, so do not be dismayed by its absence).


  1. Some great choices--especially Wolves of Willoughby Chase! Today's the first not-unbearably-hot weekend I've had since coming to New England for the summer, so I'm basking in the relative cool. :)

  2. I adore Moominland Midwinter!

    I would add: 'Letters from A Lost Uncle'by Mervyn Peake; 'The Box of Delights' by John Masefield and 'The Silver Chair' by C.S. Lewis.

    And could I append my own 'Troll Fell'?

  3. Troll Fell and Lewis get to play with the big kids in part 2! And I thought about including the Box of Delights, but ever since I read it 20 years ago I have been so vexed that the book as a whole didn't hold up to the promise of "The wolves are running" that I have no desire to re-read it.

    And I haven't read Letters from A Lost Uncle, although my husband has read it to both children....

  4. I'm not sure whether it belongs on the older or younger list, but you should certainly include Hannah's Winter by Kierin Meehan.

  5. I loved The Wolves of Willoughby Chase when I was young and had forgotten all about it!


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