London: Puffin, 1978
Age: 3 and up
Interests: Christmas, winter, snow, magic
By the same author/illustrator: Father Christmas, Fungus the Bogeyman, UG: Boy Genius of the Stone Age, and books for older audiences: When the Wind Blows, and Ethel and Ernest
A boy builds a snowman. In the middle of the night he goes out to visit it and finds the Snowman has come to life, courteously tipping his hat to the boy. The boy shows him around the house while his parents sleep. The Snowman is particularly delighted by the electrical lights, but the boy must caution him to stay away from the fireplace, the radiator, and the stove. After some further fun and messing about they share a midnight snack. Then the Snowman takes the boy’s hand and they fly over the countryside. Dawn breaks, they return home, and when the boy gets out of bed again he finds that his Snowman has melted.
A really wonderful story told without words, in a simple ‘graphic novel’ style (written before this became common). A fantastic book for children to peruse by themselves, or look at with parents, providing their own narration. There are several small panels on each page, but when they start to fly we are suddenly treated to dreamy full-page illustrations of the magical night flight.
The flying is what most adults will remember, but there is great fun in the exploration of the house as well, while the boy’s mom and dad are asleep. Children should find this delightful, especially as the adult-sized Snowman needs to be cautioned by the boy as if he were a small child.
The ending is simply stated in a small drawing on the last page of the boy looking down on the melted remains of his friend. We can’t see the boy’s face, the moment is understated but still bittersweet.
While this is not explicitly a Christmas book – no lights, no stockings, no tree, no presents are in view – this book is still a winter classic, and has become a Christmas standard in countless homes. In the UK an animated version of the tale is broadcast every Christmas.
The best kind of sentimental favourite, in which sentiment takes a subdued back seat to a simple, sweet story.