Disney’s latest blockbuster couldn’t have been released at a more apropos time.
We saw the movie over our holiday visit to the in-laws in Brainerd, MN on a day when the high was -10.
It was my kids’ first movie in the theatre. While Anna sang, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” I looked down the aisle to see my three-year-old daughter mimicking the Princess, thrusting her arms up in the air and bobbing her little blonde head to the beat.
I could relate to her passion, and to her fear as she crawled into my seat and buried her face in my shirt to hide from Elsa’s horrible snow beast. When I was a kid, in order to watch my favorite Disney movie, I had to overcome Ursula.
But Frozen warmed our hearts, and so we bought the sound track to pass some time on our icy, snowy, slow trip home. And now we dance, daily, to the ballads—using plastic toy golf clubs to pretend that we are chopping ice—“Beware of a frozen heart!” and magic wands and scarves to embellish our leaps and twirls as we sing, “For the first time in forever!”
And now, it’s going to drop well below freezing in Wisconsin, too. Word has it that we haven’t seen an artic blast of this magnitude for eighteen years. School has already been called off for Monday, when the high is -13 and wind chills will be even worse.
I am worried about our animals. Our backyard slopes down to a river. It flows North through a grove of Ash and Birch trees towards our house for a few hundred yards before reaching our backyard, which is also the bend in the river where it turns and heads West.
This is our third winter in this house. Our third winter season of river watching. On really cold days, ice will creep out from each bank, but it has never met in the middle.
Until last week, I was quite sure our river would never freeze.
But now, not only is it frozen, two to three inches of snow have settled on top of the ice, and there are deer tracks on top of the snow.
Tracks from the deer that, when it is this cold, come around to our front yard to eat arborvitae. And they have been lingering in the woods—whereas usually when they are out back they are just passing by.
And the birds? Can they make it? We’ll fill up the feeders…for sure…
And maybe, this afternoon, while we watch the light snow fall on our frozen river, thankful that we are snugged inside while the temperature drops, we will make corn cakes.
Annie and the Wild Animals, by Jan Brett (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1985, 2012) is the most suitable book to read on a frozen day like today. Like Frozen, it captures winter’s chill while still warming our hearts.
It begins: “It had been snowing for days. Winter was lasting too long.” Pictured is a landscape buried in snow. Everything is white, even the silhouettes of the pine trees. The logs of Annie’s wood house and the stones of her chimney with its thin trail of smoke swirling up into the sky are all that aren’t covered.
In the borders which frame the picture, in Brett’s traditional style, the plot of this story is already being told. We see Annie on the floor, looking lovingly at her cat.
The story continues on the next page:
“Something was wrong with Annie’s cat. Taffy had stopped playing. She ate more than usual. She slept all day long. She curled up in strange places.”
And then one morning, “Taffy was gone.”
“I need a new friend, [Annie] thought.”
My kids and I feel sad for Annie, but also delight in the dramatic irony of the borders—watching Taffy find a warm tree hole to call home for the next few days…
“Annie placed a corn cake at the edge of the woods. She imagined a small, furry animal coming out of the woods and becoming her pet.”
“In the morning, the corn cake was gone. In its place stood a giant moose.”
“He’s too big for a pet, Annie thought. I’ll have to try again.”
And so Annie bakes more corn cakes, which attract more wild animals—among them a wildcat, a brown bear, a stag, a wolf and a black bear. Each of them possesses a trait unsuitable for a house pet—too “grumpy” or “big” or snarly.
But Brrrr…It is so cold. And the animals are so hungry…And those corn cakes are so good…
And so the moose sticks its nose in Annie’s window. And, “There were wild animals everywhere. They roared for their next meal. The little house shook.” (And so of course the book does, too).
But Annie is out of corn meal.
“Annie was sad.”
“All night a warm breeze blew from the south. The snow melted….The wild animals went back to the woods. They would have food now that spring had finally come…”
And what of Taffy? I’ll tell you this—when she comes back, which she does to Annie’s delight, she is not alone.
Spring is a long way off here in Wisconsin. The forecast is calling for frozen and more frozen.
So we better hurry up and get baking.
The wild animals are anxious for their corn cakes.
Annie and the Wild Animals has been a favorite of ours for almost a year. The stunning illustrations in this magical tale with its secret-filled borders and animal growls and snarls grabs both my three-year-old daughter and two-year-old son’s attention.
Sometimes, after reading it, we play “Annie,” baking corn cakes in their play kitchen, running them out to the edge of the “forest”/living room and watching, in fear/delight at the wild animals gobble them up.
If you fall in love with Annie and the Wild Animals, too, don’t forget to check out other books in Jan Brett’s collection—two of our other favorites are Mossy (blog post here) and The Mitten (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1989).