Books Picture Book Challenge 2011 Picture Books Reading Themes When Words are Not Enough

Retro 70s Wordless Classic: Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman

PictureBook Challenge Update: 26 of 72

Ever since Janet Evans introduced me (and a few others) to Raymond Briggs when she gave a talk here at the National Institute of Education in Singapore, I became a huge fan, and it became a personal quest to find his books (which are quite rare in this part of the world) – be they in vintage bookstores or our community libraries.

Our Wordless Picture Book Special for March and April 2011

Given our bimonthly theme on Wordless Picture Books (When Words are not Enough), it is imperative that we also include a feature of Briggs’ The Snowman.

Briggs' wonderful classic, borrowed from our very own NIE library

Comic Book Format and Soft Pastels. The wordless narrative is ingeniously broken down into seemingly-cinematic-like parts, very comic-strip-style in orientation sans the word bubble. The entire book also has that soft, quiet, peaceful quality to it that reminds one of the deafening silence brought about by snow and winter time.

Waking up with snow falling on your window pane - must be a lovely lovely feeling

I was born and raised in a tropical country – and I have only experienced snow when we went to Tahoe and Yosemite early this year with family – and yes, we had to drive something close to four hours just to be regaled with a postcard perfect snow-capped mountain as our backdrop for a family photo, then drive another four hours (without the proper snow gear or even snowtires, uh-oh) going back. Thus, I can relate with this boy’s enthusiasm, his eagerness to be all dressed up to leave footprints and tracks in the snow as he creates his own personalized snowman.

A Living and Breathing Snowman. The magical quality of Christmas and the entire feel of winter have been captured with the snowman’s oh-so-polite (must be a British quality to it) tipping of his hat that cold cold evening when fate, chance, or Briggs’ whimsical genius brought him to life.

This snowman has breeding. And Hello to you Too Snowy Sir.

What would you do with a Live Snowman in your Home? One of the qualities that makes this book a true classic is its ability to engage young readers and young minds to simply… imagine what would life be like with a snowman in your home? What would you feed him?

But of course! Blocks of ice chips for crunchy chewing.

The possibilities in terms of discussion with your own child are endless. Aside from asking your children (or your students) to create their own thought bubbles (or even conversations) for each of the comic strip/frames, they could develop their own scenarios on the activities that they would share with the Snowman if they were to be a gracious host in their own homes. What delectable dishes would they spread out on the table? What games would they play?

Flying through the snow in the quiet of the evening. While the stars twinkle sleepily and the soft clouds lazily snooze back and forth, this Snowman takes his young boy out for a quick fly in the night.

Up, up and away they go

The beautifully-rendered illustrations (that must have taken a lifetime to complete per frame) just evoke so many powerful emotions, it warms the heart while you simultaneously feel the chill as you flip through the snowy pages. How it ends or whether the magic is real and the snowman truly alive, I shall leave for you to discover.

Teacher Resources and Video Clip. As I was surfing through websites for possible resources connected to this beautiful book, I chanced upon the official website of The Snowman. Yes, that is how popular it is. It contains online games and activities (with coloring materials you can print out for your kids or your classes), special events, and importantly a downloadable pdf link that details a story plan template with characters, settings, opening, complications, and resolutions for your own students or your child to fill out.

Here is a lovely videoclip of The Snowman that has been adapted into a film – it contains the original introduction:

My own romance with the Snow – a Photo Journey. Inspired by this beautiful book, I thought I would also share with you some of the lovely pictures that my husband has taken (and which I have enhanced and edited through iPhoto – macbookpro is love) while we were in Tahoe and Yosemite. The tropical girl in me was just amazed at the white crumbly and soft loveliness of the snow. I wish we could stay longer the next time around.

Beautiful trees on the way to Tahoe ... little things like this make me happy - reminds me of The Night Before Christmas with a Tim Burton feel to it
The beauty that is Yosemite... we should stay longer next time.
I could stay here all day just staring at the quiet river and the snow-covered rocks
My moment alone with the snow. I shall create my own Snowman someday.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

13 comments on “Retro 70s Wordless Classic: Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman

  1. Hi! I agree, the softness is really eminent in the illustration imitating the snow itself. I’m glad this book satisfies two of my fantasies, snow and flying ^^. Gorgeous pictures of the view in Tahoe and Yosemite by the way. The pine trees does seem Tim Burton-ish but it reminds me more of the first Narnia movie The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. 🙂


    • myragarcesbacsal

      Hello Tin! The softness and the quiet quality of the book is quite deceptive given its ending. Raymond Briggs is not your usual fairy-tale author/illustrator, he always has this darkly-tinted, existential/philosophical edge to his picture books. He was like the Gaiman of the 70s.

      I’m glad that you love the photos. My husband and I are quite a team when it comes to pictures. He has the eye for angles, I have the gift for post-processing using iPhoto, so that’s a good thing. Now that you mention it, you are right, it does have that Narnia feel to it. =)


  2. Oh that’s surprising! I love Neil Gaiman (and Tim Burton) thus I am even more intrigued! Just for that, I will try looking a copy of this. Hmm…I now have a hunch as to how this book will end =)


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  4. elizabethannewrites

    What a lovely post, so evocative of the feeling of the book. As someone who grew up with very snowy winters, it’s interesting to read a review of such a book by someone who didn’t grow up in such a climate. You’ve reminded me of the joy and beauty and delight of snow. Thank you!

    (Lovely photographs, too.)


    • myragarcesbacsal

      Hi Elizabeth.. the pictures were deceptive – I was freezing to death, and being in California, I know that’s nothing compared to .. say if we had traveled to the East Coast. At least we didn’t have to wear any thermal undies or anything like that during this trip – but my sunny quirky disposition that relishes the sun’s warmth on a daily basis did enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime tryst with the snow.

      For some reason Briggs’ Snowman shushes me up. Makes me feel all quiet and calm. Wordless indeed. =)


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