Review – Winter is Coming


Winter is Coming
written by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim LaMarche


The story begins on the title page, in silence, unremarked. Were you watching? Did you see it begin?

About: One autumn a girl goes into the wood, day by day, with her notebook and pencils. She climbs up on a platform in a tree and sits there quietly, watching, listening, drawing and writing what she sees and hears. Slowly the season changes, the animals come and go, they prepare for the cold. Winter is coming. Then one day the snow falls, and winter is here. I love the way seasonal change is described, how the skills of nature observation are blended into the story, the detailed observations of animals. I haven’t bought this one for ourselves, because it’s very North American – the animals that visit, the snow and cold and frost, all things we just don’t see where we live. I’ve been tempted though because it is so good at describing the nature observation, the patience, the stillness and listening and watching, the tracking of changes over time. Anyone who’s learnt about “sit spots” will resonate with this book.

Each double spread is a different day, somewhere in the passing autumn, with magical drawings of season, animals and watching. Most include the watching spot in the big old tree.

Good things:

  • Nature observation skills
  • Seasonal changes
  • Animals and behaviour observed and described in detail
  • Patience, persistence, stillness, watching, listening
  • Cycle of the year
  • Girl lead character – but really, it could be anyone, any child will be able to imagine themselves in that role.
A typical page of text.

Grass seed picture

What: A picture “coloured in” with glue and collected grass seeds.

The placing of glue and seeds is a little imprecise, though if you have the patience to do a bit, let it dry and come back for the next bit you can get more precision. We didn’t.

How: First, I and Kid 3 went out into the garden and collected seeds. We found different kinds of grass – there are several kinds of tussock and weed grasses in our overgrown back yard – and collected handfuls of seeds from each in different bowls. TBH, I did a lot of the prompting and collecting here, including sneaking back out and getting more of the kind that were most different, though Kid 3 thought they did it all. All with lots of conversation about the colour and size and differences. Then we went inside with our loot.

Inside, the bowls gathered dust sitting on the table for a day or two while Kid 3 “played” with them (i.e. talked about them to anyone who came near). Then I drew a picture on a piece of cardboard with big black marker (Kid 3 requested “a house”), and one section at a time we applied glue, then tipped seeds of a particular kind into the segment and spread them around with a popstick. I say “we” because glue and tippy things with a Kid 3 generally involves some “assistance” to make sure results match intentions (both yours and theirs). It took a couple of hours to fully dry, even though it was poked regularly to check.

Extras: You could do this with spices, or left over garden seeds from different kinds of plants – grass seeds have some commonalities, but seeds from the daisy/lettuce family or from the salvias or poppies or brassicas or umbrella herbs (parsley, celery, dill etc) can all be quite different in shape and kind while being similar within the family. You could draw patterns or shapes instead of a picture. And if picking the seeds together just doesn’t work out, taking a mixed bowl you’ve prepared beforehand and sorting or sieving them into different kinds might be fun too (depending on seed type).

The beginning of puddles!

What: Marking the autumn equinox by prepping the rain gear.

Umbrellas, boots and one raincoat undergoing additional testing in the first puddle of the season.

More details: In Perth, where I live, there’s almost no rain from November to the autumn equinox in March. Spring is long and warm, summer is long and hot. The first rains after the autumn equinox is an important local change of seasons for us, it’s the end of heatwave season and the end of endurance. And it’s the beginning of puddles! So we always mark the autumn equinox by going over the rain gear. Everyone has to have a working umbrella and gum boots that fit and don’t leak. Raincoats are awesome too, though we don’t do those every year. Two or three years ago the first rains were on the equinox, the year before that they were the first day of April, this year they were on Easter Saturday, the last Saturday in March. So usually if I’m getting organised around the equinox it mostly works out, timing-wise, for us to have our gear ready when the puddles arrive. Kid 6 this year spent a lot of time asking if it was the equinox yet.

This year I knew our current kid-sized umbrellas were broken so I picked two up as souvenir presents on a recent trip. They change colour when wet which has provoked some discussion as to *how*. Other years we’ve looked online at umbrella stores and hunted for favourite animals and styles, or searched for boots that match a current umbrella. Gum boots usually come from wherever we come across them – I tend not to buy them online due to needing to size them well, though I have at least once. Mostly that’s camping stores or discount clothing stores, once an agricultural supply store, it really depends. Because the heatwaves only finish with the first rains, a lot of stores here don’t get raincoats and gumboots in “until it’s cooled down”, which is usually after the puddles arrive. So I get them where I find them.