Winterfrost, by Michelle Houts

Anyone looking for a lovely wintery story with bit of Christmas to share with an eight or nine year old should consider Winterfrost, by Michellle Houts. (Candlewick, Sept. 2014).

It should have been an ordinary Christmas at the Danish farm that's home to Bettina and her baby sister Pia.  But this is the first Christmas without their grandfather...and then to make things worse, her parents both have to leave home.  12 year old Bettina is sure she can manage to look after Pia and the animals just fine...but in the rush and confusion, no-one things of the family Nisse, the helpful little magical being who looks after the barn.

Disgruntled that he didn't get his own Christmas treat, the Nisse takes baby Pia off into the winter frosted woods.  Bettina must somehow get her back before her parents come home, so she sets of herself, and finds that the tales of the Nisse are just as true as her grandfather believed them to be.   The Nisse of the woods are friendly and helpful (and Bettina even gets to shrink so that she can join them in their cozy home), but baby Pia isn't with them.   Another Nisse, one with a grudge, has taken Pia further north, and Bettina must bring the divided Nisse family together to reunite her own, flying off on the back of a goose into the magical winter....

Though the anxiety about baby Pia is great, happily for the more sensitive reader the actual danger isn't.   Though Bettina's parents aren't there to help, the Nisse family comes through with support, comfort, and a bit of magic.  The young barn Nisse who was responsible, and who's (rightly) sorry for what he did, proves to be a fine friend and ally, and all is well.

There's a lovely sense of wintery place here, and the descriptions of the secret world of the Nisse are especially delightful (young animal lovers will especially appreciate the Nisses' care for small forest creatures!).*  Thanks to her time with them, Bettina learns to see more clearly the small enchantments of nature, a gift that will stay with her forever.   It might not be believable to grown-ups that a 12 year old could be left in charge of a farm and baby, but Bettina proves her mettle and young readers won't have any problem relating her as they follow on her adventures.

*if you think your young reader would especially enjoy this part of the book--the visiting the Nisse home, and seeing how they live on a small, small scale, the tending of animals, and the whole idea that the woods are full of tiny people--be sure to have a copy of Gnomes, by Wil Huygen, on hand to offer them next.  The gnomes in that book are very Nisse-like!  I loved that book back when I was a child, spending hours pouring over all its many details, and it makes a lovely pairing with this one.

Here's what I am--jealous that we never get winterfrost, which happens when fog freezes, here in New England (at least I haven't seen fog cover everything with frost crystals).  "Wintery Mix" and ice storms just aren't the same.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher for Cybils Award consideration.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness, I loved that Gnomes book and still have it, too (among others by Rien Poortvliet). Adding this one to our Christmas list.


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