Book Summary: In this very sweet picture book, a young boy (named as James in later editions where text was added) builds a large snowman one winter when it begins to snow, taking care to dress him neatly and give him a hat and scarf. When he goes to sleep that night, the snowman comes to life and he comes into the house, waking James. James shows him things around the house and they have fun meeting the cat and playing with items around the home. Then the snowman takes the boy’s hand, they go outside, and they start running, only to take off flying over the land below. They fly far away from home, seeing the world, before they return home. James and the snowman say goodnight, and James goes to bed. The next morning, James is excited to see his new friend and runs out to the garden to find the snowman has melted.
APA Reference of Book: Briggs, R. (1978). The snowman. New York: Random House.
Impressions: I have adored this story since I was a little girl, and still today my heart breaks at the end of the story when the snowman has melted. I love that Briggs ended his story with that note because it gives the whole book a nostalgic, bittersweet feeling. For children, it is important they understand that life’s moments of joy do not last forever, but that, therefore, neither do life’s moments of sadness. Briggs’ choice to end it that way is what makes this book stand out in my memory from childhood. This story of friendship and adventure (begging the question, was it all a dream? Does it even matter if it was?) is stunningly illustrated by Briggs in gentle colored pencil drawings. In a later edition, it became The Snowman Storybook and text was added. Having looked at both versions of the book, I think the illustrations tell more of a story than the text, and I wish in many ways that it had not been tampered with (see the review below of the storybook version). Indeed, Briggs’ illustrations have even been made into a short film with nothing but a musical score and the images, and the story is just as clear. The version without the text is a useful book for emerging readers because they can get all the need to understanding of the story from the illustrations without being able to read the sentences. This book really is a timeless classic and touches my heart every time I read it.
Professional Review: Behrmann, C. (1991). The Snowman Storybook (Book). School Library Journal, 37(3), 168.
For some reason, Briggs has added words to his immortal wordless picture book about a small boy’s nocturnal adventures with an all-too-mortal snowman. The result, to say the least, is disappointing. It features fewer pictures described in simple declarative sentences that relate the action but lose the potency of the narrative. Further, the story has been trimmed, and incidents adding texture to the original have been lost. Much of the snowman’s characterization is gone; his gentle meeting with a cat has been cut, as have his telling fear of a lighted stove, his wonderment at the TV, and his bemusement at a pair of false teeth. All of his slapstick adventures with James’s toys are gone; half of the flying journey has been eliminated. The bittersweet ending remains as Briggs allows James to make his discovery of his melted friend without comment, but much of its resonance is missing with the lost pictures. What is left is a simple, rather ordinary story of an adventure with a flying snowman suitable for preschoolers who might well have waited a bit longer until they were old enough to enjoy James’s magical interlude in its fullest glory.
Library Uses: This would be a wonderful book to use with any elementary aged class for a librarian to teach writing and inference skills (if one is using the original, illustrated, text-free copy). Librarians could show the illustrations and students can make inferences about the characters’ feelings and what the characters are doing. Then, in small groups or as a class, the children can come up with words to match the illustrations.